After Justice Breyer announced his resignation last week and President Biden confirmed he planned to keep his campaign promise of nominating the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, I knew I’d need to brace myself for the next couple of weeks. Call it stacking up ample frustration in advance of what is going to be an emotionally trying process. Battening down my mental, physical, and emotional hatches. Slamming, then locking the steel door to my internal storm shelter. I could definitely go on but am choosing to spare y’all any additional rhetorical flourish….
One helluva storm’s brewing, and we’re about to experience intense thundershowers of racism and sexism for a solid couple of months. Get ready for power outages. Flash floods. Devastating wind. Y’all might recall a similar storm that raged for weeks on end during the 2020 election after President Biden announced his pick for Vice President: a category five hurricane of racist, sexist bullshit that spread from sea to shining sea, leaving no community untouched.
It’s a tale as old as time in this country. When white and male are the default (yet invisible) standards, no one deviating from those unspoken criteria can ever hope to measure up, no matter how objectively qualified. And if someone different does manage to get into a position of power, the collective snap judgment is that it had to be because of a quota that needed filling, Affirmative Action, charity, or outright dishonesty. In other words, long suffering white people getting the shaft in favor of goldbricking Black folks, all in the name of diversity, or whatever we’re calling it now.
Before we go any further, let’s arm ourselves with a few facts. In the Supreme Court’s 232 year history, there has never been a Black female justice. In that 232 years, the court has had 115 justices total. 108 of them have been white men. There have only been 3 justices of color in our nation’s history, and two of them are serving right now. The other is Thurgood Marshall.
Now, some might argue that we didn’t get the first Black Supreme Court justice until 1967 because there just weren’t any smart and capable Black folks in existence before that time. It just so happened that only white men were intelligent and accomplished enough to be part of an institution created by other intelligent, accomplished white men. It couldn’t have had anything to do with 400 years of categorizing Black people as literal property followed by a system of laws implemented after Reconstruction that purposely excluded Black folks from most civic, educational, and professional life, could it? That’s crazy talk, right? Clearly, Black people just weren’t good enough to sit on the bench…or be doctors…or hold elected office…or teach white children…
Nothing invites intense public scrutiny quite like a Black person breaking down a barrier that has kept folks that looked like her/him from doing exactly what she/he is now doing. Questions abound about qualifications, preferential treatment (this is laughable, given our country’s history, but here we are), and — GASP — reverse racism. This latter charge comes with a quickness as soon as it’s made clear that the position will intentionally be filled by a person of color.
WHY ARE WE SO FOCUSED ON RACE? (mostly unqualified) white folks wail. Shouldn’t the most qualified candidate be chosen, regardless of race???
Well, yeah, in a perfect world, that would be great. In said perfect world, everyone has an equal shot, no bigotry of any kind exists, and one race of people never held another race of people in bondage and then abracadabra-ed racial terror into a system of laws that kept that formerly enslaved group of people from rising too far above what was deemed to be their station. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be looking at a statistic like this: 93% of Supreme Court justices have been white men while only 2% have been people of color. And, just to reiterate, 0% have been Black women.
So, we don’t quite live in that perfect world of lollipops, rainbows, and equality, now do we?
Also, here’s another fun fact for your reading pleasure: Republican’s political superhero Ronald Reagan made a point of announcing that he planned to nominate the first woman to the bench before naming Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981. Reverse sexism, amirite? Where’s the public outcry at this obvious injustice?
Here’s a radical idea: how about we have a high court that reflects what our country actually looks like? And ICYMI, that’s not 93% white and male.
Let’s bring in a few more numbers to break this down, shall we? According to data from the 2020 Census, the racial makeup of the United States is only 76.3% white. But a whooping 93% of SCOTUS justices have been white men. And while the racial makeup of the U.S. is 13.4% Black, there have only been 2 Black justices in the history of the court, a mere 1.7%. I’m the polar opposite of a numbers person, yet even I can see this doesn’t add up.
Some might argue that when entire groups of people have been systematically excluded from positions of power for centuries, making space for more of those excluded groups of individuals — Black people, women, Hispanic people, members of the LGBTQ community, etc. — is imperative. It isn’t like President Biden is going to pluck the names of random Black women out of a hat and appoint one of them, regardless of their qualifications. In fact, you can bet that whoever is nominated, she will be one of the most, if not the most, qualified individual to ever sit on the bench, man or woman. Because that’s how it works in this country. If you aren’t white and male, you’d better be twice as good if you even hope to be considered for a job that has never been done by someone that looks like you. Actually, make that three times as good, just to give yourself some wiggle room.
Here’s my ultimate question: what’s so wrong with a Supreme Court that looks more like America? It has taken over two centuries to get to this place. To me, that’s way too long. For others, it’s just not long enough, and there’s really nothing a Black woman could do to show she’s sufficiently qualified. Because it’s not about her qualifications, is it? It’s about her race and her gender. It always comes down to that in America. If you aren’t white, every single one of your achievements can be written off as a consequence of Affirmative Action. And there’s no way to prove otherwise.
Suffice to say, I’m buckling in for some rough weather over the next few months. Whoever the eventual nominee is, I’m sending her nothing but good vibes and strength. But I’m sending that to future me too, because this is going to be a frustrating ride, full of microaggressions, impassioned soliloquies on the scourge of reverse racism, and a boatload of misogynoir.
But when those high winds stop howling, the drenching rain subsides, and the sun shines again in a clear blue sky, we’re going to have a Black woman on the Supreme Court. And I’m going to raise a glass to her. But I’m also going to raise a glass to getting one step closer to what this country should be: a place that truly represents us all.