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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson And The Cost Of Being The First
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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.

A Black man, R. Kelly, stands in a court room, wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands handcuffed behind his back, accompanied by a police officer in a green uniform, bulletproof vest and gun.

*Editors note: this article contains information about sexual assault, child pornography and rape. Please read with care. If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

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