Reflections on Ketanji Oyinka Brown Jackson
Friends, I appreciate our new subscribers and especially those that chose to purchase a paid subscription. I am grateful for your investment and support as I write and produce work that compassionately creates a more inclusive society. If you are not a paid subscriber, I invite you to consider supporting my work by becoming a paid supporter and sharing the post and inviting others to support me. Thank you!
A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay about the first time I was called the “N” word for my writing class at Gateless Academy. I read it out loud and my peers shared their responses with me. I found that my body had a very strong reaction to reliving in that memory to recreate that story and I was “buzzy and fuzzy” for over a week after that. (Please don’t ask me what “buzzy and fuzzy” means. I don’t know. It was a psychological malaise that has a physical expression as a pervasive stomachache for me. That’s the best way to describe it. 😜)
And I will share that story with you in a few weeks.
This was the state of my mind and body when I started watching the Senate hearings of the now Associate Justice-designate of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ketanji Oyinka Brown Jackson.
One of the first things I did was research her name as it was fascinating to me and a cursory google search says her aunt was a peace corps volunteer in West Africa when she was born and gave her the name “Ketanji Oyinka” which means “The Lovely One.” In my language, Yoruba, Oyin means “honey” and the name “Oyinkansola” means “dripping honey is added to the blessings of God.” It connotes sweetness of life, abundance, and great blessings from God. Her name is powerful regardless of which language it is in. I was delighted that she had the power of a West African name behind her. I prayed that her name would pull her through as I knew she was in for a bumpy ride.
My stomach discomfort increased after watching certain Republican senators grill her. I felt deep empathy for her. I wanted to protect her. I wanted her spectacular qualifications to be “enough,” just once, enough.
I felt weary for all Black women who must go through so much BS just to “be.”
I felt overwhelmed for all Black people, the history, the blindness of others to the current plight, the fight to just stay alive.
I felt for me.
I cried for all.
I felt protective, angry, enraged, sad, envious, happy, fearful, scared, humiliated, and entirely too open and vulnerable as I fell in love with her and everything she represents. The dignity with which she carried herself, her composure and brilliance were exemplary. I admired her. I am sure I even felt jealous of her but that was not important to me.
I concluded: We do not deserve her.
She went through that disrespectful torture because of “me,” because of all Black women, all Black people, all historically marginalized people?
She went through that for public service and because she believes in America, and she loves the law?
Did she need to allow herself to be humiliated by Republican Senators just so she could do a job she is more than qualified to do?
What she did was show us Love: African Americans have a history of loving this country and have taken so much crap for that love. Whether it was the free Black soldiers fighting in the Civil War or returning from World War II and not given the same privileges as white soldiers (i.e., housing and the GI bill, Black people love this country and serve it with determination that THIS is their country. In the US, less than one percent of the population serves in the military. Yet 17% of Black people serve in the military.1 That is love. Public service (sans politicians) is often a profound expression of love and compassion.
She was raised by her amazing parents to serve, be excellent and love us. Just pause and think about that. Love means pursuing an education and career that can address equitable treatment in the face of it feeling so unattainable. Love means having to be better at what you are doing than other people, just so you can be heard. Love means being true to the calling of your life to serve others even when others don’t recognize it, they ridicule it, or they believe that you will never be equal.
The circus called the Republican Senators interrogation was a wonderful lesson on so many things. Let me list some out for you:
1. White Supremacy Culture (WSC is not KKK stuff – that is different) is an insidious
bastard. (We don’t use such words, Iyabo!) You do not have to be white to suffer from this particularly contagious ailment. You might be Hispanic American, but you think you are “white, “and you are trying to be “white” and be approved of by the “white” establishment. And you may be white – what do I know? But I think we suffer from classic internalized racism. The problem with WSC is that it is all about the individual. That means you only think of your own personal advancement in life under the mistaken guise of “meritocracy.” Therefore, you do not have a sense of from whence you came, to whom you have a duty, and to what you will leave your legacy for. There is no interconnectedness with past, present, or future or other people who do not look like you. It is a problem! We are interconnected and no one got here by themselves. To sit before the establishment called white supremacy culture and answer questions designed to snare, entrap, and demean you is a ginormous hurdle.
2. Today, people have enough sense to NOT articulate the words: “Woman, you are Black. And even though you went to Harvard and blah, blah, blah, why would you even think for a nanosecond that you should be on the highest court in the land. Black people do not belong there.” No. That is too crass. We live in different times. Instead, they accuse you of being “pro-pedophilia.” Smears. Smears, I tell you. And lies. Lies. All this because of a deep offendedness and rage that they feel because of their assumed superiority. SMDH🙈 This is classic gaslighting. Just go on and say you do not like her because she is Black and go on and say the “N” word – you are thinking it!!!!!!! Sheesh. What a hurdle!
3. Corey Booker’s message at the perfect moment was like an Angel bringing a cold glass of lemonade on a blazing hot day. His language quenched the scorching fire and soothed the wounds of burns. It was a deeply spiritual moment. It was a miraculous word from the invisible realm of her ancestors, her faith and “the great cloud of witnesses” that were cheering her on. He helped her, helped us, get over this drawn out hurdle.
4. Her language around perseverance was coded language for “Don’t listen to your detractors. You are better than that.” Can you imagine her personal relationship with perseverance just because she is a Black woman? She does not get to say, “Ok, the tea leaves may indicate that it is time to throw in the towel.” She does not get to quit even if she wants to because her bones know that her job is to just put one foot in front of the other and move onwards. It is a hurdle to live like that daily.
5. She cried. Several times. Not only do we have the first Black woman on SCOTUS, but she is also human. She is composed but The Lovely One has shed some tears these few weeks. She is not trying to be a man on the inside. She is not trying to be someone she is not. And she is a very humble person. She is in touch with her humanity. Yet Black women’s emotions are never honored, and it takes incredible courage for a Black woman to shed a tear in public. A hurdle…
6. Three days before the confirmation hearings began, the House passed the CROWN Act, which can prohibit discrimination “based on the individual’s hair texture or hairstyle, if that hair texture or that hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.” Y’all, this is 2022. And The Lovely One has “sisterlocks” which for so many years, was considered “unprofessional.” We are making laws about her hair because in some places, she could be discriminated against. Yet she will be on the Supreme Court. Wow, what a juxtaposition of where we are in America. The oxymoronic hurdles…
7. I will say it – She is not a light skinned Sista like Madame Vice President. I am closer in complexion to Madame Vice President, and I am here to tell you that colorism exists. It takes the lighter hues ones to call it and recognize that it creates difficulties for others. I am here to tell you that because of the complexion of her skin and her sisterlocks, she has had more hurdles to jump than her lighter hued Sistas.
8. I posted the above picture on social media with Michele Obama, Madame Vice-President and The Lovely One with the caption that reads, “Never thought I would see anything like this in my lifetime.” In the original post that someone else made, in one of the comments, a Black man said, “Only one of them is Black and none of them is married to a Black man so it does not count.” The backlash from some segments of the Black community because she is married to a white man, I am sure has been another hurdle in her life. And some Black folks do not consider mixed race folks Black. So, there you have it.
9. And yet, she loves us and wants to serve us in this position.
10. We don’t deserve her. Yet I am grateful for where she is now.
No human being, most especially a descendant of enslaved humans, should have to go through what she went through just to share her brilliance to help us under the law. And you know, she will be writing dissents for some time the way things look! That is profound love. And I bow.
“We have come a long way toward perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States. And it is an honor — the honor of a lifetime — for me to have this chance to join the Court, to promote the rule of law at the highest level, and to do my part to carry our shared project of democracy and equal justice under law forward, into the future.” ~ Associate Justice-designate of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ketanji Oyinka Brown Jackson
Watching her on TV over the last few weeks, I find myself reflecting on my law school days and that time of our lives. To focus on achieving a stellar education during those young adult years of one’s early twenties shapes so much of who we become. She may appear to have naturally and majestically evolved from attending Harvard after coming from a public school system to being nominated for this position. But those hurdles….
As I watched her, I felt that this is a person who has known who she is for a very long time. I could see in her parent’s faces that they were a huge factor in her life in terms of groundedness, values and direction. Her level of self-assuredness is poignant to me. I am sure it is because I am clear that I have only been on the journey of really knowing who I really am in probably the last 15 years of my life, and it is yet unfolding. Now of course, I am making a ton of assumptions about her and who knows the truth? I wondered if she felt “buzzy and fuzzy” after all those hearings.
When Associate Justice-designate of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ketanji Oyinka Brown Jackson graduated from Harvard Law School in 1996, I had already been practicing law for about six years. I know how lost I was at Georgetown University Law School. I know that most of my classmates were white men. I know how getting a job was hard. I know how white boys knew the system and I did not. I know that as a Black woman, getting mentored was an anomaly. I know that getting really good grades like she did (and I did not) was a herculean effort. I know that law school did not come easy to me. I know how invisible I felt in that world. I know that when I graduated, I was stunned that I made it.
I can only imagine that her journey has been filled with hurdles, as with so many other Black women.
So please, today, tomorrow, this week, always, cheer Black women on. Think of us as The Lovely One. Especially those that do not make a lot of noise on social media and are just doing their own work and putting one foot in front of the other. Look for the folks that you already know that are just like The Lovely One. And thank them. If you are a person of color and culture, they will receive you and appreciate you even if they do not show it. If you are not of the global majority, (i.e., you are white) they don’t need the words of your “thanks”, but you need your own acknowledgement of the invisible labor and hurdles that such amazing creatures endure. No pity needed. Let us all just expand our compassion and realize that there are layers we all cannot understand.
May we all discover The Lovely One within. Thank you for reading.