We’ve heard people discuss the honor of being the first, but rarely do those same people tell the stories of how hard it was to get there–especially when you are Black. When we are the first to achieve a certain status or reach a certain position, there’s an added expectation of appearing calm, collected and God forbid ....not threatening.
When Jackie Robinson was the first Black baseball player to break the color barrier and play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Dodgers executive Branch Rickey told him that he was “looking (for a) ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back” against the many forms of racism he’d face. An unfortunate truth is in order to get to a certain status, Black people are looked to endure racism with a smile and a nod.
During the three days of Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings, the judge remained steadfast in showing the country she was more than qualified for the role. The Senate Republican promise to keep things “respectful” was all but a lie. Republican Senators tried numerous times to tie Jackson on being sympathetic to child porn offenders, pose questions about her faith, Critical Race Theory, and trans rights issues. The dramatization of it all was either for a primetime soundbite on the news or 2024 presidential aspirations.
Given all the offensive vitriol, Jackson remained composed and unshaken. The yelling and storming off the floor did nothing but make her appear ready for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. When Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) what advice Jackson would give to young people after she described having a tough time adjusting to Harvard University, she gave an answer which has been a mantra of Black people throughout history.
“I would tell them to persevere,” she said while her daughter Leila Jackson looked on.
When Lelia was 11, she wrote a letter to former President Barack Obama for Ketanji to be on the shortlist of Supreme Court nominees to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Eight years later, Lelia gets to see her mother stand tall on the doorstep of making history. Think of how many Black children have written similar letters or prayed at night for their parents to reach their highest goals–this is how firsts become seconds.
Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) is only the fourth Black person popularly elected to the Senate and the first from New Jersey. When he spoke of her glow, the judge teared up. What was reflective at that moment as Corey Booker showed love and appreciation to Jackson ...are the emotions many Black Americans feel when we have gotten to a place that others have not been allowed to go. It’s the joy to see another Black person and say, “you made it,” but also understanding the pain of traveling down the road to get there.
It’s not fair immensely qualified Black people have to endure situations like Jackson has these past three days. However, if there was anything to take away from the questioning part of the confirmation hearings is that Black excellence will always find a way to shine. Yes, there will be clips of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) asking about literature and gender. The one thing that will have staying power is that the strongest person in the room was sitting at that table in the middle of the room.