Several years ago, when my son had just turned six, he and I went to Disney World.
I made the reservation for the weeklong excursion in my name and, over the phone, suggested to a Disney executive a column on navigating the park as a single parent.
Everything was Kool & the Gang, and the executive and I made plans to meet at one of the property’s restaurants.
Since neither of us knew what the other looked like, he had me paged over the loudspeaker.
After being seated, I noticed people looking at us, and then one kid, then another, sallied forth and asked for an autograph.
“Wow,” I thought. “Fans! I didn’t know they got the News & Observer all the way down here.”
The third kid said something about being an Atlanta Falcons fan, but that I was his favorite player.
That’s when it hit me: they thought I was Barry Sanders, the hall of fame running back for the Detroit Lions. Enjoying the attention, I neglected to tell them that there was a difference of a "u" and about $40 million in our names.
I was crushed to discover that they weren’t merely fans of my facility with the English language, my ability to get right to the point of complex issues, my unrivaled knowledge of every episode of Sanford & Son.
“Crushed” is also how I suspect Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas feels upon discovering that Harlan Crow, the billionaire who has been his globetrotting buddy for decades, wasn’t just interested in his sparkling wit and charm when he invited Thomas to faraway places with strange-sounding names aboard his private jet and yacht.
Most of us would question why Ol’ Harl’ is always inviting us places, taking us on tours to see his private Hitler stash. We’d definitely want to know why he was buying up and refurbishing real estate we own, including our mama’s old house.
But not Clarence. He insists that he thought Crow simply wanted to hang out on his yacht, eat filet mignon and sip Dom Perignon with him.
No one should be surprised at Thomas’s apparent ability to delude himself into thinking that his power to influence all aspects of American life for decades to come had nothing to do with his popularity, and that Harlan was only interested in him for his witty after-dinner bon mots.
Thomas, after all, is the guy who has also deluded himself into thinking that racial affirmative action crushes the souls of anyone who receives it – except him.
It can be persuasively argued that each of Thomas's high government jobs - with the civil rights position at the U.S. Department of Education, then at the EEOC, then at the U.S. Court of Appeals and, finally, the Supreme Court owed, wholly or in part, to his being Black.
Even Thomas has acknowledged in various speeches and writings that being the beneficiary of such policies helped him escape the life of poverty that was prenatally mapped out for him in Pin Point, Ga.
For everyone else, though, he thinks getting help because of one's race is a soul-crusher and leads to nothing but dependency. That’s why he has voted against just about any iteration of affirmative action that comes before the court with the vigor of a man shooing flies away from his freshly baked cake.
Me? I proudly acknowledge that a key opportunity for me was from an affirmative action taken by someone. When I applied for a job that would have made me the first Black reporter in the history of my hometown Richmond County Daily Journal in 1982, publisher J. Neal Cadieu had editor Glenn Sumpter call me in Atlanta and simply say “It’s time.”
I returned home with alacrity.
Thomas, who used to sit on the bench as though he were afraid to speak without permission, uncharacteristically responded when his avaricious nature was reported on. In a statement released through the court, he called the Crows among his “dearest friends.”
I’ll bet they are: if I knew someone with a yacht like that, they’d be my dearest friend, too.
A chastened Thomas said in that same statement that he understands now that the guidelines for reporting “personal hospitality” have been changed.
"And, it is, of course,” he said, “my intent to follow this guidance in the future."
That should be easy to do, since it seems that Ol’ Harl and Clarence have already jetted or sailed everywhere worth seeing.
Except, perhaps, Disney World. Because there, little kids might mistake him for a Supreme Court justice who actually cares about the law.