Commentator Mildred Antenor: Ketanji Brown Jackson's Confirmation Hearings Brought Back Painful Memories
It was one of his most debatable campaign promises and he came through with it. In February of this year, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the 116th Associate Justice of the United States supreme court, the first time that an African American woman holds the position of supreme court justice.
And finally ------ the Supreme Court is slowly but surely beginning to look like what America looks like --- an ethnically and racially diverse nation of rainbow colors. Of course we haven’t reached it yet, for example we don’t have a native American or Asian American justice. But, I firmly believe that will happen. We’ve already started that conversation, we can’t go back now.
And I must say that this nomination is not a gift to Justice Jackson. She earned it. She graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and served as supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review. She also served as vice chair and commissioner on the United States sentencing commission. And there are a myriad of other professional posts of hers that I could mention but, it’s too long to point out in this commentary. Needless to say the woman has credentials. But that’s not what this opinion piece is about.
I watched the hearings with intensity and familiarity. Why such focus you might ask? Well because as a Black woman I too in my own professional journey have faced similar tactics that Ketanji experienced recently during her confirmation hearings. I’m talking about two senators in particular. Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham. I watched as Senator Graham complimented Judge Jackson with cliches and empty phrases. He started his verbal assault very softly and seemingly friendly telling Ketanji Jackson that her friends gave her “A very glowing praise of [her] as a person. And that she was a good friend to them.” But as I watched it, I thought to myself, ‘Oh boy, Here it comes’ I was waiting for the disrespect, the insults and the final closing statement to the tune of, ‘You’re very intelligent and you’ve accomplished a few good things in your profession But, you’re just not a good fit in this department and there’s no room for you here. Thank you very much and good luck in your search.’ And that message certainly did come at the end of senators Graham and Cruz’s tirade against Ketanji Brown Jackson. As a matter of fact, senator Cruz at one point wouldn’t even allow Justice Jackson to answer a question. He preferred to go on his rant and try to discredit her.
You see, that’s usually what happens. It’s their M.O. Watching the confirmation hearings gave me so many flashbacks to my own career journey of when I was going for a promotion and was being interviewed or even if I inquired about a position that interested me. I often got the soft push back that sounded very reticent, nonaggressive. It even came across as prudent advice. But the fact of the matter is. I wasn’t going to be allowed in. And while I was being told that there was no room for me at the organization, I had to remain professional and cordial just like Justice Jackson did during her questioning, as if I believed that they were helping me and were really concerned with my future. But all the while, I was left frustrated.
As women of color, we are held to a different standard and are expected to abide by it and not say a word lest we lose an opportunity.
When Judge Brett Kavanaugh was being questioned before the senate judiciary committee. He came up against some heat too. But because he is a white man, he had the luxury of responding and showed the world what he really felt. In his response against the sexual allegations, he called it a “calculated and orchestrated political hit”. He was very passionate about what he was saying. So much so that SNL used his impassioned responses in a comedic skit some days later. Justice Clarence Thomas during his QUESTIONING with the senate judiciary committee In his response, called it a “high-tech lynching”.
My point is that these men Black and White were allowed to voice their frustrations and often times it was very emotional. But they were still hired to do a job. But women, no matter how qualified we are, are held to a different set of rules. When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man but, when a woman gives her opinion, she’s a ---- well you fill in the blank.
I’m Mildred Antenor
Note: Mildred Antenor is a professor and the author of "The Gladioli Are Invisible: A Memoir".