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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson And The Cost Of Being The First

The SCOTUS confirmation hearing showed the high price Black women must pay for success. Is it worth it?

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If the vote splits along the party lines as it is expected to, judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed as the next justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.


The former public defender and judge will have the distinction of being the first Black woman to occupy the prestigious and coveted role, a fact that has dominated much of the conversation around her nomination and her confirmation hearings.

For four days, Judge Jackson sat in front of a belligerent committee answering a barrage of questions ranging from the ridiculous to the downright offensive. Questioning whether her time as a public servant makes her equipped to become a justice to asking her topical — yet irrelevant —- questions about critical race theory and transgender identity. Notably, Texas senator Ted Cruz grilled Jackson about whether he could “turn Asian” or if “babies could be racist” while holding up a copy of an anti racist book for babies. During the hearing, Republican Senator and Senate Judiciary Committee member Thom Tillis from North Carolina even quipped that the extent of his legal knowledge comes from watching the show Law & Order.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson being sworn in for her SCOTUS nom hearing

J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images

Of all the performances that took place during the confirmation — the bravado, the racism masking as curiosity, the feigned ignorance — it is perhaps the role of the worthy that we all watched Jackson play. There was a photo taken of Jackson as she stands squarely in the middle of a group of white photojournalists who have their lenses fixed directly on her – an almost too apt visual metaphor for the constantly leering gaze of whiteness that Black women operate under.

The disrespect that Jackson faced inflamed a familiar wound for many of the Black women who watched the hearings. There’s not only an expectation for Black women to absorb the verbal assault that comes from being a Black face in a white space, but a virtue that we must inhabit in order to survive.

Much is made about the breaking of glass ceilings, but nothing about the blood that pours out from the person who does the shattering. We’ve been convinced that abuse is worth accepting for the sake of class ascension and being in rooms we’ve historically been barred from. Instead of questioning whether these spaces are worth assimilating into or worth existing at all, we laud the strength of Black women who trek through the treacherous world of whiteness as a way to assuage our guilt for not doing anything to alleviate the burden that requires resilience.

It matters little that Judge Jackson is considered the most qualified person who would ever sit on the Supreme Court or that she has a white husband and the backing of organizations like the Fraternal Order of the Police or that she’s well educated or one of the “good ones.” There’s a fluidity to whiteness’ cruelty, an ever expanding playing field that allows for such moral impurity to happen. What if instead of trying to climb the ever increasing ladder that is required of us to get into these elite spaces, we decided that the ladder isn’t worth climbing? Or that the ladder shouldn’t exist at all?

During the confirmation hearings, Senator Cory Booker gave a speech of support and celebration for Judge Brown Jackson’s nomination that roused many but left me unmoved. He spoke about the legacy of resistance that led to both him and Jackson being able to sit in that room this week. But violence is just as much as a part of that legacy. After listening to Booker’s speech, I couldn’t help but feel that after all those years of righteous struggle, the best we could do was become a part of the thing that tried to kill us.

The emergence of a week-long tension headache told me that I needed to figure out a way to minimize and relieve my stress. In addition to daily magnesium supplements and meditation, I also found myself wanting to orgasm (the health benefits are hard to ignore) and do so at least every other day.

I was determined to set the mood and engage in some erotic self-focus by way of masturbation, and I wanted to do so with a little more variety than my wand vibrator provides. My commitment to almost daily masturbation was affirmed even further with the arrival of what would become my new favorite sex toy, the viral Lovers’ Thump & Thrust Dual Vibrator.

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If there is one artist who has had a very successful and eventful year so far it’s Mary J. Blige. The “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” shut down the 2022 Super Bowl Half-time show along with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Eminem, she also performed at NBA All-Star weekend and now she is being honored as one of Time's most influential people of 2022.

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These days it seems that we’re all trying to heal from childhood wounds, and though I’m a big advocate for cutting people off – family included – I’ve come to learn how challenging that actually is. But also, it’s not always necessary if you have a parent who is open and committed to doing the healing work along with you, a mother, for example, who is receptive to her truth. But this also means you are receptive to the reality that parents are humans who often take cake crumbs from their parents and so on. It’s not to say that you have to accept piss-poor treatment because they’re human, but if any of us are going to embark upon a healing journey, we must acknowledge even the difficult truths.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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