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In a new podcast, Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford converse for the 1st time


It's been 30 years since Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when they worked together. Thomas denied the allegation.


ANITA HILL: My working relationship became even more strained when Judge Thomas began to use work situations to discuss sex.

CORNISH: Fast-forward 27 years to another fall day, another Supreme Court nominee and another woman testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. This time, it was Christine Blasey Ford saying then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school. Kavanaugh denied the allegations.


CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.

I would never have thought in my mind that I needed to say something if it wasn't for Anita because if Anita had never testified and we had never seen her do that, it would not have occurred to me that that was even something we were supposed to do.

CORNISH: Now, these two women are talking about the experience and to each other in a new podcast called "Because Of Anita." Salamishah Tillet is one of the hosts. She's also an author and professor of African American studies at Rutgers University in Newark. She joins us now. Welcome to the program.

SALAMISHAH TILLET: Oh, thank you for having me.

CORNISH: I want to talk a little bit about the premise of the podcast. As we said, it's called "Because Of Anita," but it's not just about Anita Hill. How does it take on the issue kind of about women and how we talk about harassment and misogyny in culture?

TILLET: Before Anita Hill, people didn't really have the language or the vocabulary to diagnose sexual harassment, to talk about what had become up until that point a kind of par-for-the-course experience of women in the workplace. And so this was not only an opportunity to reflect back on the singularity of Anita Hill's testimony, but also to understand how it inspired generations of women who are influenced by that moment.

CORNISH: I want to get into that a little more. But first, this is a portion of the discussion where the two women are discussing why they came forward - right? - in the midst of these kind of Senate judicial hearings. First, you'll hear the voice of Anita Hill and then Christine Blasey Ford.


HILL: For me, the whole idea of patriotism and why I felt it was my responsibility and duty came not just as a citizen, but also as a member of the bar. I had felt in my life how important the Supreme Court's decisions are. I had seen it lived out in my family's life.

BLASEY FORD: I don't know how to phrase it, but a calling from the country or from my civic duty as a citizen that I had to say something.

CORNISH: What was it like listening to them talk about their motivations? Because to great parts of the country and population, these are women who acted with ill intent - right? - or with malice or politically.

TILLET: I mean, I was really struck by the fact that they understood their role as people who were in many ways protecting the sanctity of the Supreme Court and were willing to - as we understand patriotism, willing to sacrifice their personal and professional careers in order to make sure that people who had committed sexual harassment or sexual assault weren't on the Supreme Court. And I think that's just an extraordinary gesture.

And I'm a sexual assault survivor, and so I also see it as so deeply moving. And I'm completely grateful to the two of them for making that sacrifice on behalf of all of us.

CORNISH: Something you asked them that I found fascinating is what they thought it would take for people and culture to kind of believe survivors of sexual harassment and assault. And Anita Hill gives an explanation that really puts it back on all of us that I found really interesting.


HILL: I think they do believe. They don't want to take the responsibility, especially if you're talking about someone who is really powerful who's being accused.

BLASEY FORD: I was struck when Anita said that you think that people do believe. And it just reminded me of sitting in that room, in that chair. And I did feel that the people in the room did believe me.

CORNISH: Can you remember what you were thinking in that exchange?

TILLET: Yeah. I mean, I do think, especially in this moment of #MeToo, where you have an unprecedented number of people coming forward, even if we believe them - right? - that there are not these systems and resources in place in order to create sustainable change. And so we're in this moment in which...

CORNISH: She did feel that she was believed.


CORNISH: That's what we heard. I didn't know if that felt like a difference.

TILLET: I mean, I think when we were watching the testimony of Dr. Ford in real time and this idea that she was believed and yet that the outcome is quite similar to the outcome in 1991 makes us realize that to believe survivors is an important and significant step, but it is not enough to prevent this pandemic of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

CORNISH: You asked them both if it was worth it.


BLASEY FORD: Certainly, people in my community have seen how upended my life is and what we had to go through as a family. And I'm absolutely sure that I would do it again. And that's not to say that it hasn't been really, really, really hard and that I'm still not as OK as I would like to be three years out of the situation. I certainly wish I was doing better than I am.

HILL: Would I do it again? Yes. But again, I'm not in a position to tell anyone that they should do it. And I understand people who have gone through systems and said that they would never do again what they did when they complained because it was just too awful.

CORNISH: They didn't answer yes. They didn't answer no.

TILLET: (Laughter) Yeah.

CORNISH: It was kind of more of a, it's complicated.

TILLET: It is complicated. I think that kind of level of sacrifice that we've been talking about throughout this conversation - is it worth it to make this sacrifice when you're not sure what the legacy of that sacrifice is going to be?

CORNISH: How did you address the issue of the response of Clarence Thomas, the response of Brett Kavanaugh, who really vigorously denied the allegations and very kind of emotional testimony? Is that something that they talked about and how does that fit into kind of what you're trying to draw from this chapter of American history?

TILLET: Part of what we were trying to do was, in a way, decenter them, if that makes sense. The biggest takeaway that I had from it actually starts with Episode 1, when Kimberle Crenshaw talks about the consequence of not having an analysis, that she's - you know, coins the term intersectionality, but the consequence for us as a nation and our inability to think about sexism and racism and the way in which they actually feed off of each other and the way in which Black women in particular live at the intersection of these forms of oppression.

The consequences wasn't just for Anita Hill. The long-term consequences of us being unable to think about #MeToo and Black Lives Matter in conversation with each other and as coexisting social movements is having a Supreme Court that's deeply to the right. And the civil rights gains and the feminist gains that we have seen over the last 50, 60 years are really being turned back as we speak.

CORNISH: That's Salamishah Tillet. She's an author, activist and professor and the co-host of the new podcast "Because Of Anita." The episode containing the audio we've heard drops on October 11. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

TILLET: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATCHING FLIES' "OPALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Karen Zamora
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.

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