When I first learned President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the next Supreme Court Justice, I instantly thought of her as the epitome of Black girl magic, marking a monumental moment for Black girls and women. Yet, the tired and worn questions about a Black person’s qualifications, especially a Black woman’s, emerged like clockwork.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson questioned Judge Jackson’s brilliance, going so far as to demand that her LSAT scores be made public — even though Jackson earned undergraduate and law degrees at Harvard University. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) accused Jackson of judicial activism and stormed out of the confirmation hearing in protest of her nomination. Amid this onslaught, Jackson remained poised and calm in front of her parents — and millions of Black women nationwide.
Over the course of the hearings, it became clear how Black girls and women are still taught they have to work twice as hard to get half as far. We learn we are supposed to be the voice of many while simultaneously feeling invisible in spaces not created for us. Growing up in predominantly white schools, neighborhoods and spaces, I often found that I was the “only.” The only student without mentors that looked like them. The only student with diverse life experiences and perspectives. The only Black student in my Advanced Placement (AP) classes, a feat only achieved after repeatedly advocating to a skeptical teacher to move me to an advanced class — with a grade well above the cut-off. Unfortunately, this is not a unique experience for Black students, with just one in five taking an AP course in high school.
I fought to find my “place” in school and life while simultaneously being a Black woman in America, dealing with the generational trauma from overt and covert racism, past and present. With a family that grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and murder of Michael Brown forced me to recognize and understand the world that I was living in. I felt stuck, unable to truly embrace the diversity and unique perspective I possess as a woman of color. I — and countless other Black girls — have felt stuck in this limbo, dwelling in white spaces without a role model to aspire to. There weren’t even Barbie dolls or American Girl dolls that looked like me. I remember distinctly wanting an American Girl doll growing up, but the only Black girl at the time, Addy, represented an enslaved laborer during the Civil War era.
My parents ultimately paid to create a Just Like Me doll who could be Black, resembling someone who looked like me and did not represent oppression, inequality and enslavement. Now, as a second-year student at the University of Virginia, I once again find myself stuck at this same intersection that has seemed to haunt me most of my life. Majoring in Public Policy and Leadership, and African and African American Studies, I am passionate about addressing racial inequities in policy and governmental institutions, striving to create lasting institutional change through the legal path. It becomes draining and discouraging when there are fewer and fewer people that look like me beyond every barrier I have to overcome.
Having to overcome countless barriers to access, I was filled with overwhelming joy and hope when I heard that Ketanji Brown Jackson was President Biden’s nominee. After 232 years, just two Black men, four women and zero Black women served as a Supreme Court Justice. For the first time in American history, the impactful intersection of Blackness and femininity is represented in the highest court in the land.
The promise of a Black woman holding one of the highest judicial offices in the land inspires me as I strive to enter the legal field. The slow but sure progress towards the inclusion of people in all professions and areas of society — including a Black woman on the Supreme Court — makes me optimistic for what could be. Justice Jackson’s confirmation can herald not the anomaly or the end, but instead the beginning of an untold history being brought to the forefront beginning of a world where Black girls can realize endless possibilities. We will again see the excellence that dwells within Black women in diverse spaces, and this confirmation serves as a vital stepping stone for the “only” to soon turn into the “many.” She will not only serve as a role model for Black women and girls but for all women both nationally and internationally, affirming the promise that they are magic, filled with power, progress and potential.
Justice Jackson’s confirmation signals that Black women and girls are exquisite and make the impossible possible, taking over the world with practical excellence, regal curls and divine, Black beauty. And it tells us that we do not have to be reduced to a binary, but instead recognized and supported for who we are: multi-dimensional and complex.
Renee’ Bryan is a second-year public policy student at the University of Virginia.