Let’s Break it Down | Support Black Women

Evelyn Carter, PhD
Dr. Evelyn Carter
Insights

Image Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

In my office, I have a picture that reimagines the iconic shot of Ruby Bridges. In the picture, Ruby’s shadow is projected against the wall, while Vice President Kamala Harris walks in the foreground. The picture hangs on the wall behind me, and I often remark that it’s because I want to start each day remembering that these iconic Black women have my back. This week, I look forward to adding another iconic Black woman to the mix, as the votes proceed to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court.


Her nomination proceedings were quite a sight, and the hours-long hearings brought a range of emotions. Anger, when watching Ted Cruz’s condescending remarks — attempts to bait the Judge on Critical Race Theory through the thinly-veiled guise of “questioning.” Annoyance, when the Washington Post’s infographic of the Judge’s exceptional qualifications again highlighted what we already know: the prove-it-again trap is alive and well. Delight, when I saw the image of KBJ’s daughter Leila looking at her mom with such immense love and pride.

For all the political theater that it was, KBJ’s nomination hearing was also a master class in some of the subtle and overt ways that racism attempts to undermine Black women’s success. Through this entire nomination process, people have sought to undermine KBJ’s qualifications and expertise, have relied on racist tropes to imply that her presence on the court will threaten foundational principles of America — and all this has happened with the expectation that KBJ maintains an unflappable composure. Though KBJ’s particular experience was broadcast on national television for all to see, Black women all over recounted again and again: I know exactly what she’s experiencing, because the same thing happens to me at work. As April Reign said, “These attacks, unfortunately, feel very familiar to me and millions of Black women in this country, who have had to hold our tongue, steady our gaze, and endure without anyone speaking up on our behalf.”

In his remarks, Senator Cory Booker referred to Judge Brown Jackson as a “harbinger of hope.” I feel the same way. I hope the people watching her hearing that thought, “this isn’t right,” are now asking themselves whether the Black women in their midst have similar experiences. I hope that those people then take action: holding others accountable for making more equitable decisions, and calling out bias that requires Black women to work harder and be more successful than their peers in order to receive the same accolades. I hope people do away with the “strong Black woman” stereotype and instead consider more deeply why they expect Black women to withstand racism, sexism, and the unique combination of the two, while maintaining a calm, cool composure. I hope that Judge Brown Jackson’s confirmation will bring change, not just because of her presence on the Court, but because of the conversations and the actions her presence will spark.

Next to the picture of Kamala and Ruby is a pennant that says, “Joy is an act of resistance.” It’s a daily reminder for myself — and the many other folks that I interact with on Zoom — to maintain my sense of optimism in this world, and in the work that I do. And that is why, with all the emotions I felt before, I choose joy. Because, if all goes according to plan, by the end of this week we will have the first Black woman to serve as Supreme Court Justice confirmed. And that is certainly something worth smiling about.

April 5, 2022

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