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Anita Hill Says Her Experience Motivated More Women to Become Politically Active

Illustration for article titled Anita Hill Says Her Experience Motivated More Women to Become Politically Active

Melissa Harris-Perry sat down with Anita Hill for Essence to discuss Hill’s experience in 1991, when she accused then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, and what it felt like to be thrust into the national spotlight over such a personal matter.


On April 14, Kerry Washington will play Professor Hill in HBO’s Confirmation film about the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee—which included then-Senator Joe Biden, who reportedly requested that he be portrayed better in the movie than he acted back then. In Hill’s chat with Essence, she says that the Committee’s goal wasn’t ever to hear what she actually had to say:

HARRIS-PERRY: How did race and gender affect how you were heard -during your testimony?

HILL: Those members of Congress had never even considered that Black women had our own political voice. They assumed that Black men spoke for us. For an African-American woman to have her own political voice and own political position, and to believe that our perspective should be added to the conversation, was just something they hadn’t even considered. I think that’s why, politically, things changed. I think that’s why women -became so agitated and so energized to make change on this important issue. And for Black women, it was like, Okay, we have to make sure we are speaking for ourselves.

[Editor’s Note: In the aftermath of the Thomas confirmation, a record number of women sought elected office, and 1992 was deemed “The Year of the Woman.” Twenty-eight additional women were elected to the U.S. Congress, -including Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate.]


Image via Getty.

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I was in high school in 1991, just starting to seriously question my parents’ stringent evangelical/conservative views. Watching the way Anita Hill was treated —and how she was spoken about, particularly by my mother and other church members — helped that process along tremendously.

I remember I just kept asking why everyone was starting with the assumption that Clarence Thomas had to be telling the truth and Hill had to be lying to punish him for being a conservative black man, and everyone kept telling me that there was no other possibility and that I would understand when I was older and more politically savvy. It was frustrating and incredibly eye-opening.