On April 7, 2022, the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, making her the first Black woman to serve in the highest court of the land. For Black women, this is an incredible moment in history. It follows weeks of us painfully watching Judge Jackson be subjected to outrageous accusations and openly racist and sexist treatment from conservative Senate members during the confirmation hearing. It reminded us of the intersection we sit at in this country: the often lonely marginalizations of race and gender.
While the sting of the hearings will not be forgotten, a collective sense of accomplishment, joy and pride washed over many Black women when they heard that finally, after 233 years, a Black woman would sit on this bench. Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black Indian-American woman to serve as Vice President, was moved to emotion as she presided over Jackson’s confirmation. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley proudly tweeted, “Watch your step, concrete ceiling just shattered,” as she congratulated the new justice.
Jackson will also be the court’s first public defender. She has a background in advocating for people most marginalized and criminalized by the U.S. Justice System, who cannot afford their own counsel. In this country, the courts and prisons disproportionately impact Black and Brown people, as well as LGBTQ and low-income people, so the perspective Jackson brings is not only historic but desperately necessary.
An incredible moment has Black women everywhere feeling a range of emotions as we proudly move forward. Sweet July spoke to several Black women of all ages and walks of life, of varying political views, to ask them what this moment meant to them. What hopes have surfaced? What fears or doubts linger? But most of all, what does it feel like to witness this moment in history?
Margo Gabriel, Freelance Writer
As an American living abroad in Lisbon, Portugal, I feel extremely proud to witness this progress unfold in the United States despite no longer calling it “home.” I have many misgivings about life in the United States and knew early on in my 20s that living out the rest of my life in the United States was not a sustainable option for me. Living as a Black woman in the U.S. was fraught with making myself small and internalizing a lot of the microaggressions I endured in the predominantly white spaces I inhabited. So I always had this idea of working toward an exit strategy and starting a life elsewhere in the world.
Now that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been confirmed, it does feel like perhaps the United States would be a more sustainable living option for me—though I wish my feelings were different in 2020 when I decided to leave the United States for Europe. But my hope is that Black women move about in the world more confidently after this historic moment. It’s incredibly affirming knowing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson holds this position. To me, that is so important for representation.
Anoa Changa, Retired Attorney and Southern-based Journalist
In addition to having the first Black woman Supreme Court Justice, we’re seeing the first public defender ascend to the highest court in the land. A Supreme Court justice with experience in indigent defense—someone who cannot afford a lawyer—is something that has been missing from the bench for over 30 years now since Justice Thurgood Marshall stepped down in 1991. Why does that matter? Because there’s so many cases that go before the court that involve matters that are impacting defendants or individuals who are criminalized by the legal system, who are automatically assumed guilty and deserving of whatever sentence prosecutors want to throw at them.
As someone who was a young Black attorney at one point in time, trying to figure out how to make my way, it’s validating to see a Black woman on the bench who did a tour of duty as a public defender. A lot of people act like if you want to have a trajectory to the federal bench, you have to be a prosecutor. I’m overjoyed, but I also understand the very real limitations that arise. When we see entities in trouble, when people are trying to regain legitimacy, they turn to Black women as if we were the “fixers” who are going to return things to their natural state of order. That’s not something that should be a burden to place on Justice Jackson. But here, there is a clear path forward to making the court a more representative and equitable body.
I feel very inspired by Judge Jackson’s rightful and deserving confirmation. Today feels monumental in a way that I’m sure most major historical events felt in real time. While I am elated about Judge Jackson getting a position she has worked so hard for, this entire confirmation process has been conflicting for me because I know that no Black woman gets to where she is without being excellent. To see the way she was questioned and treated during the hearings was a painful reminder that for those determined not to see our humanity, nothing will ever be good enough.
I worry about how she will be treated as she takes this position and wonder about the toll it will take on her personally. I’m also thinking a lot about her sister circle, one of whom introduced her for the hearings, and feeling giddy at what their group chat must look like right now. Personally, my group chats have carried me through this pandemic. So, I am happy she has them.
Gennette Cordova, Communications Consultant
With the historic confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, I’m reminded of the culminating perseverance of Black women throughout history that has laid the foundation to make a moment like today possible. Today will encourage young people, specifically young Black girls and women, for generations, serving as a reminder that our obstacles are not insurmountable. And, of course, I’m naturally wary of being overly enthusiastic in these moments. History has taught me that simply adding Black faces to flawed, inherently racist institutions most often brings about no fundamental changes. Ultimately, real progress will be made by people continuing to organize and fight, and, if we’re lucky, the combined results of victories like today might improve the conditions that we organize under.
At almost 50, this is a historical moment, and one I honestly didn’t expect to see, even after having watched this country elect its first Black president in 2008. While representation does not equal structural change when it comes to racism, it still matters. In some ways, this moment is more powerful than when Obama was elected or when Kamala Harris became Vice President.
After 233 years, to finally see a Black woman on the bench, especially given the historical roots of Black women in this country, is a powerful symbol that sends a message to both the larger country and specifically to Black youth. It says that there are people who look like you at the highest levels of this country. That there are Black women who look like your mother, aunties and grandmothers in the most powerful places, and they have the power to be a part of creating change.
I hope that the same people who championed her nomination will be equally as vocal and supportive when the attacks come. I hope that Justice Jackson has a cadre of supporters in her personal life, people with whom she can be emotionally and mentally vulnerable when the weight of that bench gets heavy. It is an honor and victory to see Justice Jackson ascend. But most of all, I hope that she can do it without the psychic pain of what that bench has held in the previous 233 years, when there was no Black woman in that space.
What I hope Justice Jackson’s confirmation will mean for Black women in America is that the world will see more of what we know for sure, and that is, we are the moment. In every industry and field, we not only rise to the occasion, we exceed it with grace and dignity. I am joyfully overwhelmed and extremely proud of her. I know her legacy will leave a massive imprint on American history and in the hearts and minds of Black women and girls everywhere.
The legacy she will leave for Black women will be one that reminds us of how history can be made when we commit to persevering through not only adversity, but our own moments of self-doubt. Her name and likeness will etch in our memories that excellence is a state of being, and it’s already inside of us.