Congresswoman Barbara Lee (left)and Anita Hill. Photo by Sarah Carpenter.
About 2,000 people filled the Oakland Marriott Ballroom last Saturday to hear Anita Hill speak about how racism and gender violence are intertwined.
“I will not talk about race, I will not talk about gender—without talking about them both. I’ve lived them both,” she said, “and I would say to every one of you—you live them both, too.”
Speaking for Women’s History Month of gender equality, Hill was hosted by the Barbara Lee & Elihu Harris Lecture Series held in partnership with the Peralta Colleges and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Center.
Hill brought these issues to national attention in 1991 during confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court justice, when she testified about the sexual harassment she endured while working for him.
She explained how Thomas’ description of her testimony as a “high-tech lynching” solidified his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. She said his choice of language made an all-white-male judiciary committee fearful of being called racists.
Thomas was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to replace Thurgood Marshall, who was also Black.
“He wanted to name an African American to take the place of Thurgood Marshall,” Hill said. But she said he could only replace Marshall as a body, not ideologically.
“The contrast between Judge Thomas and Justice Marshall was individualism versus community—it was clear.”
Since 1991, the nation has become more prepared to deal with sexual harassment complaints. The Violence Against Women Act was passed by Congress in 1994, making it the first comprehensive federal legislation package designed to end violence against women.
Hill cited stories of women coming forward with complaints earlier than 1991, claiming that she, along with women today who are part of the #MeToo movement, are standing on the shoulders of these women, for whom it was even more difficult to make their case.
“There may have been a time when we had to excuse and assume that sexual predation was just something men did,” she said. “But that day has passed.”
The crowd erupted in cheers.
“And for those who say that things are no different than in 1991—I say you’re wrong,” she said. “Because in 1991, there would not be a hall full of people applauding that line.”
Oakland resident Xiao Wen Chen, who attended the lecture with two of her friends, said, “I was very inspired. Women should not give up their civil rights.”
Chen said the speech made her feel more motivated to stand up for herself in the face of sexual harassment. “We have the right to protect ourselves.”
Catherine Addison, also of Oakland, said she felt renewed by the evening, noting that Hill’s calls for courage to stop gendered violence, while not new, were still needed.
“Just to hear a pioneer like her come out and say those things again was uplifting,” she said.