Have you ever heard the phrase “representation matters” used and wondered why it resonates with some people more than others?
Or why some people (like me) make such a big fuss about diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Well, imagine growing up in a world where you’re constantly being shown negative images of Black people and those narratives are so pervasive that you begin to internalize them yourself.
What are some negative stereotypes of Black People?
1) the idea that the only way for a Black person to excel is if they’re a standout athlete
2) the idea that Black people are inherently less intelligent than their White counterparts
3) the idea that Black people are morally & ethically inferior to White people
4) the idea that Black women are over sexualized & their worth is tied to their beauty (the Jezebel trope)
5) the idea that Black women must have straightened hair or weave to be deemed as professional or acceptable in work settings
There are many other misconceptions of Black people but these are a few that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson dispelled as she became the first Black woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. With that confirmation, came thousands of Black women and girls who were not only inspired, but were bursting with pride at what it signified. Myself included.
How Ketanji dispelled some myths of Black people:
Ketanji showed incredible grace and poise as she endured the grueling six-week long confirmation process.
Ketanji shattered the often perpetuated misconception that the only way to make it as a Black success story is to be an athlete or entertainer. She showed that her intellect & academic achievements are top tier and should be celebrated. For those who don’t know, she graduated from Harvard with honors for both her undergrad and law school degrees.
As someone who was an accomplished athlete myself, I'm obviously not saying there is anything wrong with being celebrated for sporting achievement. I wouldn't be where I am today without the gift of sport. There is an issue, however, with believing that's all that Black people can bring to the table.
Ketanji displayed her high moral standing by receiving a unanimous “well qualified” rating (the highest rating) by The American Bar Association to serve on the Sumpreme Court because of her track record. Her record as a judge shows that she is fair, impartial, and committed to protecting the constitutional rights of all people.
Ketanji showed that you mustn’t be a vixen to be elevated, honored or celebrated as a Black woman. In a world where women are often judged primarily based on looks, it’s easy to get fixated on outward appearance as the sole barometer in which we are measured. Whether you thought she was beautiful or not, was irrelevant to the fact that she just became the 116th Supreme Court Justice.
Ketanji displayed that her hairstyle choice which once may have been deemed as unprofessional or inappropriate was a beautiful display of self-expression. As a fellow Black woman who also has Sisterlocks™️, I love how she made a bold statement about embracing her natural hair, whether she intended to or not.
There was also an incredible amount of significance in the first Black female Vice President (and my Soror, yes I had to throw that in there 💕💚) Kamala Harris presiding over the vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. One history maker directly involved in the elevation of another history maker. It was Black excellence at its finest, and a very special moment for me to witness.
As a mom of a young Black girl, I am very intentional with the images that I show my daughter, and how we speak about ourselves at home. My husband and I go to great measure to ensure she feels uplifted, encouraged, and supported every day. We are keenly aware that we must be diligent to counteract the negative images that are often portrayed of Black people and unfortunately this work must begin very early.
Even though my child is only two and probably won’t understand the significance of what took place on April 7th for a while, I am so happy that we live in a world where she can see Black women represented not only in the White House, but on the Supreme Court bench.
Between President Barak Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, and now Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, millions of Black kids around the world can pull encouragement from their remarkable journeys when times get tough.
My daughter recently told my husband that she wants to be an astronaut when she gets older. We were both taken aback and asked her to repeat herself and she confidently repeated her lofty goal of becoming an astronaut one day. We had been reading books to her about outer space and her statement helped to reiterate two facts to us:
1) even when you don’t think so, children are always listening. It’s a cliché but they’re truly little sponges and it’s remarkable how much information they absorb every day
2) exposure and representation matter. I touched on it in this blog but it’s a lot easier to strive for a goal when you see people who look like you achieving success. Even though we don’t know Kamala or Ketanji personally, seeing these women hold these esteemed positions proves to so many girls like my daughter that it’s possible.
We all can have an impact
If you’ve never felt like a lack of representation is a hindrance, chances are you have a level of privilege that others do not. Now, we all have varying levels of privilege, whether it’s due to race, gender, able body-ism, sexual orientation, class, education or other reasons. The key is to acknowledge that privilege, and then take steps to help disenfranchised groups by speaking up, advocating for, donating to, learning from, or helping in any other way that you can.
I have always been a huge proponent of doing everything I can to help level the playing field for everyone, but this is a huge task that no one person can do alone. So I’d encourage everyone reading this blog to not only actively check your blind spots (because we all have them) but to also use your voice and influence to contribute to the diversity, equity, and inclusion work that is being done. You, and the world, will be better for it.