Watching the Supreme Court Confirmation Through my Children’s Eyes
People say representation matters.
I remember watching President-elect Obama walk on the stage with his family after being announced the winner of the 2008 Presidential election. It was about two weeks before my son Dylan’s first birthday. Dylan was playing with his toes on the carpet turned slightly away from the TV, oblivious to the historic moment. As I gazed at him from the couch with President-elect Obama and the first family framing him in the background, I sobbed quietly realizing that my son will grow up in a world where it is never a question whether a Black person belongs in the highest office in the land. The significance of what that means for how he sees himself and what he believes is possible for his hopes and dreams in this world filled me with joy, pride and gratitude. And even today, despite how torn and divided we seem, I can still feel at a cellular level what that seismic shift means to my ancestors and my progeny.
As momentous and powerful as that moment was to me and my family, there is something deeply personal about Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court last week. While President Obama was a symbol of what is possible, Justice Brown Jackson is confirmation that people who look like me belong in the highest positions of power. Justice Brown Jackson will not change the political leaning of the court, but as her pioneering predecessor Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said about Justice Thurgood Marshall, she will change the conversation. Regardless of your politics, it’s hard to understate how important this moment is, especially since the precursor to transformation is so often thoughtful conversation.
I say this as a Black woman and as a mother of a Black daughter and Black son. My children are inheriting a set of broken belief systems that exist in our country that they, unfortunately, will still need to navigate. Despite all the progress we made, racialized stereotypes still operate at the core of our society. For example, the concept of being “tough on crime” is used as a euphemism for being “tough on people who don’t look like those in power,” while being lenient on those that do. I have witnessed firsthand the parents of white children advocating within their networks of lawyers and judges to “give their kid a break” in response to drug related charges because “they are good kids finding themselves,” only to see my own family members in similar situations prosecuted at the fullest extent of the law because they represent the faces of the “enemy” in the “war on drugs”.
What gives me hope is that I know, both based on her professional experience and the people she treasures in her inner circle, that Justice Brown Jackson understands the nuanced dichotomy of our all too often INjustice system. Her confirmation alone affirms the duality that our country is both a masterpiece and a work in progress. All too often the drive for representation is seen as a transactional goal — if you increase representation of different types of people in leadership, they will have different connections and expand into different areas which will yield new opportunities. I often encounter this myopic mindset in my day job at CapEQ as we help companies and investors do WELL by doing GOOD. This kind of “transactional” representation is a critical step on the journey to rethinking and diversifying who is in positions of power, but it is not enough if we are to build a truly just and equitable society. Likewise, having a Black woman sit in the seat of the highest court in the land is far beyond transactional representation; it is transformational evolution.
Justice Brown Jackson gives so many of us and our families a reflection of our humanity. As Justice Brown Jackson sat during the confirmation hearings in poise and excellence withstanding attacks on her character and questions about her ability to serve in that role in spite of impeccable qualifications, my spirit called out: “I have felt that pain.” As Justice Brown Jackson’s dear friend, Lisa Fairfax, with protective resolve and confidence, introduced her to Congress and listed her sister’s accomplishments from the vantage point of her own impressive credentials, my friends and I giddily texted each other: “We know that love.” And as Brown Jackson’s daughter gazed on her with pride, hope, and admiration, I believe I can say with confidence that as an American who loves her country WE, all of us residents of these United states, SHARE that dream.
Because representation isn’t about transactions. It’s about our kids being able to see their auntie ascend into one of the most powerful roles in our democracy, and not just believing, but knowing, that they can do it too. It’s about seeing yourself and your culture reflected back to you, like when Vice President Kamala Harris gave a shout out to her chitthis. It reinforces an equitable belief system that people of color not only belong in the highest positions of power, but that we are deserving of that power too. Justice Brown Jackson’s confirmation helps my family — and all of us — redefine our notions of power and success and reimagine a different type of world with greater equity and fewer barriers to success for everyone.
So today I celebrate because I know that my daughter has one less barrier to break down. Justice Brown Jackson did it for her. And I know my kids will never question if they or anyone who looks like them deserve to be leading our country at all or any levels of power. Seeing this confirmation through their eyes gives me hope that our better days are ahead of us, and I am hopeful that we can take this transformative moment to ensure we join our children in making those better days happen.