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What I Learned From Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

Like many of you, this week, I have been obsessed with the confirmation hearings of soon-to-be US Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson (yes, I am naming it and claiming it 🙌🏾). Watching the proceedings, I have felt a range of emotions. First, pride, that a woman who looks like me is finally being considered for the US Supreme Court. While across Africa and the Caribbean, many Black women have not only served on their nation’s highest courts but also led them as judge presidents and chief justices, in America, this has not been the case. It’s gratifying to see this barrier being broken. But while I’ve felt pride at her nomination, I’ve also felt trepidation for Brown Jackson because we know that those who shatter glass ceilings usually get cut in the process. As I’ve followed the hearings, I’ve asked myself what has enabled Judge Brown Jackson to manage this moment? Two things stand out: community and purpose. Since her nomination was announced, we’ve predictably seen Brown Jackson subjected to ridiculous questions about her qualifications, again demonstrating the Black adage's truth that you have to be “twice as good to get half as much.” As the Washington Post deftly illustrated, ma’am, is more than qualified and has received the American Bar Association’s highest endorsement. Yet she’s been subjected to insidious demands that she disclose her LSAT scores and answer for books written by other Black people. The dog whistles are sounding quite clearly.

As I’ve watched Judge Brown Jackson endure the overt attacks and microaggressions that are all too familiar to Black women, I’ve marveled at her poise and grace. In classrooms and boardrooms everywhere, many of us have performed the tightrope act of defending ourselves while repeatedly being interrupted and talked over, without appearing angry or aggressive. But rarely have we had to do it in full view of the world. Despite the disrespect leveled at her, Judge Brown Jackson has been the picture of composure and given a master class in how to “fix your face.” Watching these hearings, we have indicators of what has kept her going, not only through these proceedings but as a Black woman who was often the only, or one of a few, in elite spaces. As her college roommate, BFF, and legal scholar Lisa Fairfax introduced Brown Jackson, it’s apparent that the Judge is part of a circle of sister-friends that have shown up and supported one another over the years. In the weeks leading up to these hearings, it’s also evident that Brown Jackson’s community extends far beyond her immediate circle to women’s groups like Win with Black Women who have mobilized to push back against biased media narratives and to provide platforms for Brown Jackson’s record to be presented fairly. The community that understands the significance of this moment is also embodied by male allies like Senator Corey Booker, who, in a full-chested defense of Judge Brown Jackson used his time to celebrate her, other Black women, and to remind her that, “You have earned this spot. You are worthy” despite the doubts others tried to cast. Beyond the show of community and solidarity, it was perhaps Brown Jackson’s exchange with California Senator Alex Padilla, a Latinx ally, that spoke to the power of purpose.

Grab your tissues and fast forward to minute 14:45…It's well worth a watch

Listening to Brown Jackson, it is clear that she understands her talent as a jurist, that she has a passion for justice, and knows that the world needs more models of Black women who specialize in the wholly impossible. As I’ve written before, this interface of talent, passion, and what the world needs, is the place where our purpose lies. When we're clear about who we are and the contribution we want to make in the world, it gives us the ability to persevere against all odds. Fam, I long for a day, when as Black women, we don't have to persevere quite so much; when we don't have to fix our faces, but can safely and without fear of retribution, publicly express our anger and the full range of human emotion. As we work towards that day, we know that being clear about our purpose can help us overcome the inner obstacles we sometimes experience being the first or one of a few in space. Our sense of purpose can also help us overcome the external obstacles manufactured by people who simply can't fathom our brilliance, our grace, and the extent of our qualifications.

As we see in this image of Judge Brown Jackson's daughter, Leila, staring at her mother with what can only be described as pride, we’re also reminded that as we persevere in our purpose, we inspire and encourage others to do the same.

This image, which is quickly becoming iconic, was taken by Sarahbeth Maney, The first Black Photography Fellow for The New York Times This week has been heavy on the Black Girl Magic!✨

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