When President Joe Biden nominated Kristen Clarke to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, critics on the right raised some important red flags. Among them, questionable views Clarke had expressed when she was an undergraduate at Harvard University. As the Free Beacon reported, Clarke had publicly embraced theories of black racial superiority, including spurious claims such as “human mental processes are controlled by melanin—that same chemical which gives Blacks their superior physical and mental abilities.” She added that, “Melanin endows Blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities—something which cannot be measured based on Eurocentric standards.”
As the Free Beacon noted, “Though the views Clarke advanced at Harvard might be excused as harmless dorm-room radicalism, senators from both parties were hard on Trump nominees who made milder remarks as college students.” If Clarke was white and had made similar statements about white people’s superiority, her nomination wouldn’t stand a chance. Why shouldn’t she be held to the same standard, given that her youthful views are relevant to the job she has been nominated to do?
Opinions like those expressed by Clarke are becoming more mainstream in popular culture. Last fall, a D.C. public high school sponsored a seminar for students of color that featured a session on “Magical Melanin,” for example.
Clarke has also embraced anti-Semitic views, both as a college student and more recently as an activist. As head of the Black Students Association at Harvard, she invited anti-Semitic writer Tony Martin, author of The Jewish Onslaught, to Harvard’s campus to speak. At the time, Martin was embroiled in an intellectual battle with fellow Wellesley professor and classics scholar Mary Lefkowitz, who had challenged his and others’ Afrocentric scholarship (Martin responded by unsuccessfully suing Lefkowitz for libel). Martin also regularly assigned his students a book of Nation of Islam propaganda called The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, which falsely blamed Jews for the slave trade, and often spoke at conferences of Holocaust deniers.
Not surprisingly, Martin used the opportunity to speak at Harvard to spread his vile message, but, as the Harvard Crimson reported, also to “lavish praise” on Clarke for her “courageous” decision to invite him to speak. When Jewish students on campus expressed concerns about Martin, Clarke dismissed them, saying, “Professor Martin is an intelligent, well-versed black intellectual who bases his information of indisputable fact.”
Clarke clearly had no problem with Martin’s trafficking of Nation of Islam-fomented conspiracy theories, even though his “scholarship” was so egregiously anti-Semitic that it prompted the American Historical Association to issue a policy resolution in 1995 about Jews and the slave trade. “The Association therefore condemns as false any statement alleging that Jews played a disproportionate role in the exploitation of slave labor or in the Atlantic slave trade,” that rebuke read.
And Clarke hasn’t distanced herself from those views, either. In 2019, she signed a letter supporting Women’s March co-founder Tamika Mallory after Mallory told white Jewish women to check their privilege and, according to an exhaustive investigation by Tablet, “asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people—and even, according to a close secondhand source, claimed that Jews were proven to have been leaders of the American slave trade.” Like Clarke, Mallory seems both familiar and comfortable with some of the most egregious anti-Semitic conspiracy theories promoted by the Nation of Islam and “scholars” like Tony Martin.
When asked recently about her support for such views, Clarke told The Forward that it had been a “mistake” to invite Martin to campus, but also claimed her words had been “twisted.” She added, “I unequivocally denounce anti-Semitism.”
But this is disingenuous—as Clarke herself perhaps inadvertently revealed when she refused to extend her condemnation of anti-Semitism to the anti-Semitic statements of Tamika Mallory. As Clarke sees it, there is a clear hierarchy of victimization, and she and Mallory rest atop it: “The marginalization of women of color is a threat to disrupt democracy, and what led me to join that letter was a grave concern about seeing another woman of color marginalized and silenced,” she said. “Let me be clear, I denounce anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it shows up.”
But one can’t defend Mallory while denouncing anti-Semitism, given that Mallory is an unapologetic anti-Semite (she once referred to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as “the greatest of all time”). After all, Mallory is only promoting the same vile conspiracy theories that Clarke’s favorite Afrocentric scholar, Tony Martin, legitimized when Clarke gave him a platform to do so.
This does not inspire confidence in Clarke’s ability to deal with serious issues of civil rights and justice. The group most often targeted and victimized by hate crimes in the U.S. are Jews. If Clarke is happy to overlook the hateful views of someone like Tamika Mallory merely because Mallory is black, then what will she do when tasked with enforcing civil rights law under the aegis of the Justice Department?
There are some disturbing signs that she won’t pursue her charge so in a colorblind fashion. The Free Beacon reports that Clarkes “has a history of opposing civil rights prosecutions of black defendants, opposing a complaint against an African-American Democratic leader who discriminated against white voters.” Disturbingly, a former Justice Department official testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that Clarke repeatedly criticized the department for pursuing cases against blacks. The official added that she was part of a group of activists who “believe incorrectly but vehemently that enforcement of the protections of the Voting Rights Act should not be extended to white voters but should be extended only to protecting racial, ethnic, and language minorities.”
Will Clarke enforce civil rights law, or does she share the ideological commitments of what John McWhorter has called neo-racism, which rejects color-blindness in favor of destructive racialism? Expressing regret for one’s youthful radicalism is expected for a nominee facing a potentially tough Senate confirmation process. But what Ms. Clarke has shown with her behavior as a lawyer and an activist is that she is an untrustworthy champion of American civil rights.