Erin Keith, Esq.
A "thank you" fit for a Justice
As I sat watching hours upon hours of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing—the barrage of condescending questions cloaked in racism and sexism under the guise of patriotism—my stomach turned. Even from the comfort of my living room, viewing the bigotry through a screen, my face flushed. My head hurt. My heart raced. It wasn’t sadness I felt, but rage—anger that someone so indisputably qualified, someone so immovably calm and eloquent in the face of a 22-hour plus interrogation and attempted character assassination, someone so knowledgeable and passionate about the Constitution and its protections, someone so obviously committed to the duties, responsibilities, and ethics of the judiciary, someone with every elite accolade our country could possibly expect, someone with beautiful, warm brown skin like my mother and ‘locs like my auntie—could be treated in such a manner on national television, while the world watched.
I knew the think-pieces about the hearing would emerge. I doubted I would read them. I felt settled, comfortably, in my unwillingness to attempt to make the illogical, logical with regards to conspiratorial critiques of Judge Brown Jackson’s judicial record. I also felt resolve in my refusal to read lengthy analyses about the Oscar-worthy “outrage” expressed by some senators who showed no such concern about the lenient treatment of sexual crimes when voting to confirm a white, male nominee accused of sexual assault. Such pieces did not deserve my time and would not receive it.
But as I reflected on the unavoidable confirmation conversations swirling around me—the soundbites I heard on the TV at my local sports bar, the witty tweets circulating on my timeline—I realized that what was not being expressed nearly enough, what I longed to read, or to overhear, was true gratitude expressed towards Judge Brown Jackson. Not a stereotypical observation or microaggression disguised as high praise about how charming she had been and how articulately she spoke. Not a meticulous review of her academic prowess and judicial acumen compared to the qualifications of past nominees—futile attempts to convince staunch naysayers of her readily apparent worthiness. Not a passing acknowledgement of the historic nature of this nomination, because it shouldn’t have taken this long in the first place. But, instead, a direct and gracious thank you befitting the sacrifice, persistence and determination Judge Brown Jackson embodies and exemplifies. An expression of true appreciation for enduring such grueling treatment in the public eye for the benefit of our country—for the benefit of Black girls, with big names and bigger dreams who are watching.
If I could talk to the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson, I’d extend such gratitude.
I’d thank her for her uncertainty and for sharing it with us—for describing, all too well, the feeling of pursuing higher education at institutions where Black people once labored in bondage. For discussing, on a national stage, the imposter syndrome experienced on such a prestigious campus as a Black girl, far from home, where most people don’t look like you. For proving that wondering whether you belong, doesn’t mean that you don’t—doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed if you stay the course. For adequately articulating the beauty and importance of a passing affirmation from someone who sees potential in your mere “being there” and tells you to “persevere.” For showing us what it means to do just that.
I’d thank her for choosing a road less traveled and showing where it can lead. For choosing empathy and compassion where many others choose self-righteousness. For daring to defend the Constitutional rights of indigent clients as a public defender and to offer the accused its protections. For advocating zealously where others might not advocate at all. For recognizing humanity where others see only criminality. For affirming that in a country where the prosecutor-to-presider pipeline is most common, that the work of indigent defenders not only matters, but gives us a unique perspective that we can bring to the bench, should we so choose. For exemplifying that we, too, are worthy of shaping jurisprudence.
I’d thank her for donning her regal, natural hair from the courtroom to the senate floor. In a world where Black women are often told our natural tresses are too unruly, unprofessional, and unkempt—where we face hair discrimination necessitating a legislative solution—I’d thank her for lending her mere presence and perfectly pristine ‘locs to refute such narratives.
I’d thank her for exemplifying that sensitivity and strength can coexist. That it is okay for Black women to shed a tear—to have emotions and to feel things. In a society, that simultaneously demands our tenacity and grit and then condemns it; in a society that commands us to be superwomen and then fears our superpowers; in a society, that complains we are not soft while making it unsafe to be, I’d thank you for displaying such valiant vulnerability.
I’d thank her for needing support and for receiving it publicly; for leaning into her husband’s forehead kiss after a day of intense questioning and having a warm embrace. For allowing us to see her love and be loved. For affirming that Black women with big aspirations can have romantic inclinations, adoration, and partnership.
I’d thank her for beaming with love for her family and for her legal career. Too often, we’re told that a choice is required. That a woman cannot possibly properly have a love for her children, and her spouse, and her work, while no such claims are asserted towards working men. I’d thank her for showing that there is still love to be felt in the often imperfect attempt to balance work and home life. That there is still room for an approving gaze of admiration between a mother who sometimes works too hard and her daughters who are watching her blaze new trails because of that hard work.
I’d thank her for taking up space. For refusing to shrink in the face of fire. For instead rising, question after question, to meet its flame. For doing so with flare, and passion, and intellect. For embodying calm in the storm. For being unapologetically knowledgeable, brilliant and excellent.
I’d thank her for making our ancestors proud. For standing humbly on the shoulders of the Honorable Jane Matilda Bolin, the Honorable Constance Baker Motley, the Honorable Thurgood Marshall and the Honorable Damon Jerome Keith. For honoring our grandmothers and their grandmothers and their grandmothers. For coming as one but standing as ten thousand.
I’d thank her for being the first, but certainly not the last. I’d thank her for knowing that “democracies die behind closed doors,” but so too, do opportunities. I’d thank her for holding the door open behind her, wide, as I am certain she will. For inspiring a new generation of Black girls to see their own potential and run to meet it.
The title “your honor,” is so appropriate, for a woman who has shown so much of it, superseded only by the title of “Justice” for a woman who will undoubtedly seek to rule with it on the highest court of the land. It is indeed our honor to witness this momentous day—a day where a Black woman named “Ketanji” is confirmed to sit on the United States Supreme Court. We thank you. We see you. We honor you.
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