The Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson has been confirmed as the 116th associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The vote was 53-47, with three Republicans joining all the Democrats to seal her place in history as the first African American woman to hold the position in the court’s 233- year history.
What did not need to be confirmed is the comfortability of too many Americans with African American suffering. It’s not a stretch or an overly dramatic assessment for those who have been verbally harassed and attacked by underqualified gatekeepers of social and religious institutions.
In fact, it is a part of America’s history. The way it has done business is to make it hard for persons socially colored black or “colored” to enter spaces reserved for “white’s only.”
We can roll the tape and watch it in black and white as African Americans are sprayed with water hoses, bitten by police dogs, beaten with batons and arrested for demonstrating for the right to be treated equally in the 1950s and 60s.
Commentators talk of civil rights leaders as if their deaths were the necessary sacrifice for the United States of America to act justly. So, violence was the answer?
They must be beaten and killed by European Americans to be included as full members of American society? They must “grin and bear” unwarranted scrutiny to be seen as equals? They should “shuck and jive” so as not to be viewed as threatening in the eyes of socially colored white people who have a murderous history?
That is an actual goal, a marker of readiness. It should be treated as evidence of one’s preparedness for the additional mentally and emotionally unsafe conditions tacked on to certain American experiences and job descriptions.
And if not, then they should just quit now because they don’t really want the job. They’re not real Americans. This, my friends, is gaslighting.
More qualified than any current or former justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, viewers of the confirmation hearing watched Judge Jackson recount a story of her experience as a student at Harvard.
Through tears, she says, “I was really questioning, ‘Do I belong here? Can I, can I make it in this environment. And I was walking through the yard in the evening and a black woman I did not know was passing me on the sidewalk and she looked at me and I guess she knew how I was feeling, and she leaned over as we crossed and said, ‘Persevere.’”
The educational environment was not conducive to her sense of human being and belonging. Not naturally but uniquely difficult for her because of race, a color-coded caste system, her peers at Harvard made her experience harder than it needed to be.
It’s like six-year-old Ruby Bridges needing four federal marshals to escort her to school during desegregation. Bridges is called courageous, but what is the word for the crowd gathered outside? Because these are the people we should really be interrogating.
Instead, we watch Cory Booker, like the unknown African American woman on Harvard’s campus that fateful day, encourage Judge Jackson to keep going. “You are worthy,” he said.
The assumption that African Americans must prove themselves worthy is rooted in bigotry and white supremacy. African Americans are made to feel they must work twice as hard as their European American colleagues and be “above reproach.”
Overcoming the odds routinely stacked against them, they should suffer and suffer through whatever comes their way. But, so long as there are unnecessary hoops and hurdles for African Americans to jump through and over, we cannot simply “get over slavery.”
Because this is just history repeating itself.
Judge Jackson was described as “poised” and “composed” by commentators as she was forced to endure repeated verbal assaults from Republicans. Caught in the line of fire between both sides, she was asked if babies can be racist and to offer a biological definition of woman – questions which were completely off topic.
What their questions revealed is the expectation that African American women, those socially colored black, take it, deal with it and accept it as a part of their life.
That an African American woman must suffer through the mistreatment of European American men and women isn’t commendable. It’s despicable. She’s not made better for it, and neither are the people who bore witness.
No one should have to be that strong for that long and no matter how many times she is wronged. There is no myth or motivation for this kind of suffering.
Chanequa Walker-Barnes writes in Too Heavy a Yoke, “Ask anyone — Black or White, male or female — to describe Black women and the most common answer is likely to be strong.”
Now think about Judge Brown and ask yourself, “Strong for what?”