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America’s history of inequality in race and gender relations should not be lost in the continuing struggle for civil rights, noted human rights activist Anita Hill. “I can’t think of gender equality without racial equality. I can’t think of racial equality without gender equality,” said Hill, who leveled charges of sexual harassment in her 1991 testimony against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. More than 200 people attended a recent forum featuring Hill entitled, “Social Change And Workplace Realities: How Improved Harmony in the Workplace Affects Productivity,” at Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Mass. Prior to her talk, president Dr. Anthony S. Caprio presented Hill the inaugural Western New England College President’s Medallion in honor of her commitment to justice and civil rights. Hill said that in spite of the gains women and minorities have made toward full equality, “we still live in a gender world and a racial world.” She said a “frank discussion” about race and gender in law and social policy is especially important at a time when people feel that such barriers no longer exist. “I would argue that not only can we, but we must, continue to talk about race even though there are those who would say that race is no longer a factor in equality and achievement,” Hill said. Hill, who described herself as a product of the Civil Rights movement, argued that a clear and full understanding of the law should take into account the social and historical plight of African Americans and Native Americans. She said both ethnic groups “gave meaning to the life of the law” and raised public awareness of the tensions and inconsistencies in the Constitution, prompting social change. “From a theoretical point of view, a discussion of race is not only inevitable and indispensable, it is invaluable,” Hill said. “I’m here to tell you that until we get the discussion about race right — until we get the discussion about gender right — they will remain. Both can serve as catalysts for change.” Hill said discussions such as the problem of school violence in terms of race and gender have only just begun. Using the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., as an example, she said the profile of school violence fits that of young, white suburban males. “If those individuals had been urban youths, young Hispanic or black, we probably would have called that a gang. We don’t look at the Columbine youth as having a race or a gender,” Hill said to a round of applause. Shifting her discussion to domestic violence, Hill said “only recently have we started to think in a broader sense covering all classes and all races.” “What we’re finding out is many of our solutions to domestic violence that work in white middle class neighborhoods, do not work in urban minority neighborhoods,” she said. Hill also touched upon the topics of race and the elderly and better childcare for employees. After her hour-long talk she fielded questions from the audience. When asked how to justify the “collective burden of guilt” in calls for reparations to the descendants of slavery, Hill said, “we have a collective responsibility for it,” even though there is “very little legal precedent for it.” “The real question, for me,” she said, “is whether it will help us to get beyond our history. To the extent that it can, I’m in favor of it.” Questioned how she would rate the performance of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, her former supervisor at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Hill admitted she had a “catty remark” about Thomas not being as vocal as his colleagues on the bench. She said Thomas attributed his silence to his lingering self-consciousness for having been teased as a child at school for the way he talked. “My feeling about that is get over it. You have a job to do. You have to be a full participant in this experience. He doesn’t make a lot (of money) on the Supreme Court, but he can afford therapy,” Hill said to a wave of laughter and applause. Hill had one final criticism for Thomas: “I don’t think he will make a positive contribution to jurisprudence of the court in terms of the intellectual thinking or pushing us toward equality,” she said. A graduate of Oklahoma State University and Yale University School of Law, Hill has served as an advisor to the chairman of the EEOC and as a former Special Counsel to the assistant secretary of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. She is currently a professor of law at Brandeis University and is the author of “Speaking Truth to Power,” which addresses issues in the workplace.

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