The New York Times demonstrated the depths to which cancel culture has sunk when it played a role last month in helping to destroy the life of a young woman for an offensive remark she made when she was 15 years old. The newspaper devoted space on the front page of a Sunday edition to tell the story of how a biracial young man saw a three-second video posted on Snapchat in which a white classmate used a racist slur. Rather than call out the offender at the time for using the “N”-word when celebrating getting her learner’s permit to drive, the teenager saved the video and decided to hold onto it until its release could do the most damage.
That moment arrived when the girl announced last spring that she had been accepted at the University of Tennessee and would have a spot on its cheerleading team. That happened right after the death of George Floyd at the end of May. The girl posted her support for the Black Lives Matter movement on her Instagram account. But rather than realizing that the video from three years earlier was an unfortunate aberration, her classmate pounced. He denounced her and released the by now three-year-old three-second video that quickly went viral. In the ensuing furor, she became the object of widespread condemnation. Following a public outcry from alumni, the university rescinded her acceptance.
Months later, the Times revived the controversy and gave her denouncer another chance to trash the girl. He not only expressed no remorse about the consequences of what he had done, but boasted of “teaching her a lesson.”
Readers of the Times were left to conclude that in post-BLM America there is not only no statute of limitations for expressions of racism, and that consequences are also in order even for indiscretions committed by those who could not be held legally responsible for their actions in a court of law.
But while the Times was prepared to assist in the shaming of a white teenager for a slur, it appears that they have a very different standard when it comes to racism committed by a future government official.
Last week, President-elect Joe Biden picked Kristen Clarke for the crucial post of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. His choice of Clarke, a prominent African-American attorney and head of the left-wing advocacy group Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, was widely applauded by Democrats. It meant that the Department of Justice’s powerful Civil Rights Division would be put in the hands of someone dedicated to supporting racial quota hiring and admissions policies. Clarke, a graduate of Harvard University, has been a prominent critic of the efforts by Asian-Americans to challenge that school’s policies that penalize them for their race because students from other more favored minority groups with lower grades and test scores are admitted instead of them. Indeed, Clarke was quoted in a 2019 Times story about the case.
But it was not until this week that it was discovered that Clarke had her own history of racism and anti-Semitism to explain.
In 1994, when a Harvard undergraduate, she wrote a letter to the Harvard Crimson in which she declared her support for theories that claimed African-Americans were superior to whites, including the bizarre assertion that the amount of melanin a person had would account for differences in cognitive abilities. According to Clarke, who was then president of Harvard’s Black Students Association, “Melanin endows blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities—something which cannot be measured based on Eurocentric standards.”
Nor was that the only evidence of her prejudice. A month later, in her capacity as head of the Black Students Association, she invited Wellesley Professor Tony Martin to speak at Harvard. Martin was a rabid anti-Semite and Holocaust denier who had published a book called The Jewish Onslaught in which he attacked both Jews and Judaism. Clarke defended him in the Crimson saying, “Professor Martin is an intelligent, well-versed black intellectual who bases his information [i.e., his anti-Semitic slurs] on indisputable fact.”
Yet the same person who was spouting racism and supporting anti-Semitism is now about to be handed the keys to a government agency that is supposed to enforce civil-rights laws.
As of this writing, there is no available published evidence that Clarke has ever apologized for her behavior or renounced her views. Indeed, she appears to have gone on to a glittering career in legal advocacy including a stint as the head of civil-rights enforcement for the office of New York State’s Attorney General without having been asked to account for her past.
Indeed, in a gentler age before the Internet and social media, what future government leaders uttered, believed or did while in college were not put under a microscope. But as we saw with the Times story about a girl and her three-second video slur, if even an ordinary 15-year-old with nothing else newsworthy about her is considered fair game for shaming at the hands of the country’s leading newspaper, surely that must also be true for a nominee for a top job at the DOJ.
What other nominees for high office did when they were young has also been held against them during their confirmation hearings in recent years.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was publicly pilloried as a rapist because of uncorroborated accusations about something that may or may not have happened when he was in high school. In his case, his Democratic critics, including Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, were not only unprepared to treat him as innocent until proven guilty but also didn’t think his age at the time of the alleged incident mattered.
In another example, liberal opponents of Judge Naomi Rao’s nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals asserted that she should not be confirmed in that position because of a supposedly controversial article she wrote while an undergraduate at Yale University about drinking and sexual misconduct, in which she asserted that women should be held accountable for what happens when they are drunk no less than men.
The fact that the woman that Biden thinks should be the government’s watchdog on racism was herself a published racist should have been taken into consideration when tapping her for the post. But so far, Clarke’s past doesn’t seem to be an issue for the incoming administration. Democratic politicians who have praised Clarke’s nomination like Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Corey Booker (D-N.J.) haven’t rescinded their endorsements. And the Times, which roasted a teenager only weeks ago for far less, has not printed a word about the accusations in the days since the news about her hate speech became public.
Equally unsurprising, the ADL, whose job is supposedly to speak up against anti-Semitism, and which has found the time to involve itself in the battle over the impeachment of President Donald Trump, has also been silent.
If Clarke were to publicly apologize for her racism and anti-Semitism, and if both parties were to agree that in the future they would no longer hold nominees accountable for their behavior in college and high school when considering confirmations, then it might be possible to give her a pass. But not only is such a ceasefire highly unlikely, her current illiberal views about racial quotas are impossible to separate from the racist mindset she demonstrated while she was a student leader at one of the most elite universities in the country.
If Biden wishes to be taken seriously as a foe of anti-Semitism and an opponent of racism—no matter from where it emanates—he must withdraw Clarke’s nomination. Putting a known racist and Jew-hater in charge of civil rights should not even be up for debate in a sane country. But if Clarke is confirmed, it will be an indication America has crossed a line towards legitimizing hate that should never be approached.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.