(CNN)

By Ruben Navarrette

Clarence Thomas has an abundance of two things that are often in short supply whenever Americans talk about race: courage and common sense.

The only African-American on the Supreme Court displayed both this week in speaking to a small gathering of students and faculty at Palm Beach Atlantic University, a nondenominational Christian school in Florida.

In a series of provocative and insightful comments about race that were first reported by Yahoo! News and confirmed by several people who attended the talk and heard the remarks firsthand, Thomas dropped a few bombshells.

This got people’s attention because — nearly 25 years after his bitter confirmation battle — Thomas remains a lightning rod for controversy, and because he rarely speaks while on the bench. Apparently, he has been saving the best stuff for the public remarks that he delivers in more casual settings.

Like this one:

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school,” Thomas told the audience. “To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white (Catholic) school. Rarely did the issue of race come up.”

He went on to note that, these days, many Americans talk about race a lot and have a hair trigger on the subject.


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