Anita Hill Defends Her Legacy
Two decades after her seismic testimony, she doesn't shy away from talking about it.
"Where we live, in many cases, defines our access to opportunity," says Hill, explaining that someone's ZIP code determines his or her children's education, access to healthy food and jobs and who represents them in government. "This is about how people live daily. So we need to bring equality though another mechanism, as opposed to simply saying, 'Well, you can always go to court and enforce your civil rights.' "
Hill proposes revitalizing neighborhoods with an eye for not just safety and beautification but also the fulfillment of needs like quality transportation and financial services over payday lenders. She also suggests that President Obama has an opportunity to be a champion for the displaced, but his housing policies -- focused on loan modification and mortgage refinancing -- fall short.
"I'm absolutely in favor of helping people stay in their homes, but I'm asking us to think beyond that," she says. "Remember, there was a stable housing market before the crisis occurred, and still people were vulnerable to shady lending practices and, even worse, predatory lending practices. So getting people back in their homes and stabilizing the housing market is not enough."
Despite Hill's scholarship over the years on a range of subjects, from the housing market to commercial law to education policy, she understands and accepts that her name will be forever linked to sexual harassment and the Clarence Thomas hearings.
"It is one event in my life," she says. "It is not who I am in my entirety, but it's important. It still resonates with people, and I honor that. I don't try to compartmentalize things in my life by saying, 'That's over there, and this is who I am now.' All of these things make up who I am and how I live today."
A common aspect of Hill's life today is being approached by people and told how she has inspired them. "I hear from so many people, women and men, who talk about different moments in their lives when they've felt powerless to do what they know is right. They tell me that, because of that testimony, they felt empowered to come forward."
Hill's testimony is also credited with galvanizing the "Year of the Woman," the 1992 election year following the Thomas hearings, in which a record four women were elected to the U.S. Senate, including Carol Moseley Braun, the body's first African-American woman. That same year saw a 68 percent increase -- from 28 to 47 -- in the number of women in the House of Representatives. In the five years following the hearings, the EEOC reported that sexual harassment claims more than doubled, and awards to sexual harassment victims nearly quadrupled.
Although she's often told that things have changed in the workplace with regard to sexual harassment, Hill says they haven't changed enough. "There is still any number of abuses that people experience in the workplace," she says. "Things have changed, but we have a lot of work to do."
Another conversation frequently brought up is what she calls "the legacy question."
"People don't get to decide what their legacy is; other people decide that for them," she says with a laugh. "That's fine. But if mine is that I have helped people resist feeling as though they are voiceless, then I will be very happy. I'm all for it."
Cynthia Gordy is the Washington reporter for The Root.