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Black Women Persist

Justice Brown Jackson reflects unconquerable spirit

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on April 28, 2022)

Author: Dr. RL Booker

Editor: Veronica Mobley

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

A few weeks ago, I felt more emotion than I have in a long time. What brought me to tears were words I will never forget.

"I'm jogging this morning ... and this woman comes up to me, practically tackles me, an African American woman (tells) me what it meant to her to watch you sitting where you're sitting."

These are a few of the words spoken by United States Sen. Cory Booker during the March 23, 2022, Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. While looking at her with excitement, he also stated, "You're a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You are a Christian, you're a mom, you're an intellect, you love books. But for me, I'm sorry, it's hard for me to look at you and not see my mom ... . I see my ancestors and yours. Nobody's going to steal the joy of that woman in the street or the calls that I'm getting, or the texts. Nobody's going to steal that joy. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. ... You're here, and I know what it's taken for you to sit in that seat."

As he declared "Nobody's stealing my joy," Booker echoed the validating words that have for centuries been stated by Black parents, grandparents, relatives and friends. Some of his remarks responded to Republican senators who made what the National Review, a respected conservative periodical, called "a disingenuous attack" that was "meritless to the point of demagoguery." What Judge Jackson endured during the Supreme Court hearing is not uncommon to the discrimination that is deeply rooted in the intersectionality of sexism and racism that Black women have endured for centuries.

Toni Walker (My Mom)
Toni Walker (My Mom)

I am reminded of a story my mother recently shared about an experience she had as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). As a single parent working to rear four children, she made the decision to apply for registered nursing school so she could provide a better life for me and my three sisters. As she prepared, she would often study with two of her friends who were also LPNs applying for nursing school. These two women happened to be white. After acceptance letters went out, my mother's two friends had been accepted into a nursing school in Arkansas. My mother was denied entry into that same school. Despite the fact that my mother's test scores were higher than theirs, that she had been an LPN for 11 years while both other women had only been LPNs for 3 years, and irrespective of the reality that she had glowing recommendations from her decade of work as a nurse.

Michele Heyward, Founder of Positivehire,
Michele Heyward, Founder of Positivehire,

This is but a small snapshot of what Black women often endure. In the words of Michele Heyward, founder of Positivehire, Black women are "working their job, managing the discrimination, overcoming the stereotypes alongside feeling the diminished sense of authenticity. This emotionally taxing work-life demands them to work twice as hard and be twice as good." Despite this discouraging plight, Black women press on. I think about Black women like Fannie Barrier Williams, Maria Molly Baldwin, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm and many more. In the face of adversity, struggle and strife, these women forged a path for little Black girls to envision themselves in positions of power and influence that previously lacked representation, while also setting a higher standard that demanded acknowledgment and respect.

On Sept. 21, 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to be the first woman on the high court. All Democrats and all Republicans voted for her unanimously. In stark contrast, the Senate voted to confirm Judge Jackson 53 to 47, with only three Republican senators joining all Democrats. The almost unanimous partisan divide on the first black woman being nominated to the Supreme Court is but a small example as to why less than 10% of Black Americans voted for the 2020 Republican presidential candidate. This small percentage is not because Black Americans largely disagree with conservative values as many of us were raised in conservative Christian households. Rather, it is largely due to the continued denial of systemic racism and the almost uniform stance to block any policy that politicians label as radical and/or socialist, versus objectively looking at how our communities have been denied substantive resources and being open to considering policies that will benefit Black Americans.

The reality is that of the 115 Supreme Court justices who have served on the bench over the last 233 years, only two (1%) have been Black and only five (4%) have been women. Judge Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. As Booker stated, "No one is going to steal my joy in this moment." I would venture to say that the vast majority of Black Americans feel the same way.

In the words of Judge Jackson herself, "I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution will inspire future generations of Americans."


Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Senator Cory Booker- Supreme Court Nomination Hearing

From PBS NewsHour on Youtube



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