POV: Witness to History—Seeing Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Hearing Was Magical
POV: Witness to History—Seeing Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Hearing Was Both Magical and Excruciating
“Her nomination has become a touchpoint for so many of us who recognize our own experiences in hers”
The night of March 23, I sat at dinner in a restaurant reading It’s About Damn Time, by Arlan Hamilton, reflecting on this line: “…we’re not a box to tick, and we’re interested in and perfectly capable of speaking on topics other than diversity.” Yes! This was the perfect way to end this surreal day.
I had arrived in Washington, D.C., that morning to attend the nomination hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. It had been quite the whirlwind since getting the email invitation from School of Law Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig the day before, and now the day was over and I had so much to process. I had not been able to focus on anything other than the hearing the previous two days, and for just a short time that Wednesday, I got to be present for this historic moment. It definitely felt like a dream.
Now, I am well aware that this day was not about me, and my writing about this day is just another in a crowded room of thought pieces. Nevertheless, this is a testament to the absolute gravity of the moment we are in. Jackson’s nomination has become a touchpoint for so many of us who recognize our own experiences in hers. The way Jackson had to respond to unfair, and at times cruel, questions (that were not really even meant for her to answer) with such brilliance and grace was telling. The way her long list of accomplishments, including her prolific trial experience, became a pawn in this all-too-familiar scene of political chess was exactly what so many of us expected. Even though she was the person in that chair, she—the person, the judge, the experienced legal professional—was rendered invisible.
Throughout the continued questioning, she kept her composure, because, of course, she had to. It was a familiar feeling. That feeling of not being able to, for a moment, break. That feeling of being put on an impossible pedestal. That feeling of having to explain our every decision and choice in excruciating detail, because we don’t have the luxury of the benefit of the doubt that others receive. And still, Jackson handled it brilliantly. Because she had to.
This experience got me thinking about my own career. I am getting ready to complete my third graduate degree, and yet I still spent the last three years doubting my worth, questioning whether I deserve to be here, questioning whether I deserve to be headed to my new job in corporate law at a fancy law firm. A friend sent me a text when I told her I was going to attend the hearing in person. It said, “I so love how surprised you always seem when you share news about how much you are valued or seen or acknowledged by others.” And it’s true. So many of us have felt this. We call it “imposter syndrome” and, yes, I guess so. But more than that, it is the knowledge that even with all my degrees and titles, these systems were not created to include people like me, and somehow, here I am. Here we are—law students, doctoral students, law school deans, judges, corporate lawyers, and now, fingers crossed, a Supreme Court justice.
I’ve been reflecting on the caricatured versions of Black women and this Black woman—Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson—pasted all over the news. I’ve reflected on the short snippets of her experience that showed her to be the most qualified nominee and the way that these snippets had to be pasted all over social media, because the assumptions were otherwise. I reflected on the many Black women that I have looked up to, befriended, shared with, even disagreed with, and how, regardless of our politics, our positions, our jobs, we have all shared this feeling of exceptionalization. We have all shared having to carry our struggles and the struggles of others, because we are one of few, having to be the face of critical race theory, of feminism, of justice-seeking in all its forms—and then blowing all expectations out of the water.
For me, sitting in a room for just over 30 minutes watching the excruciating moments unfold, well, it was still magical. On the one hand, Jackson was this amazing individual who showed exactly why she was meant to be there; on the other hand, she provided an example of what is possible when excellence, in all its forms, is acknowledged.
I ended that day having an awesome dinner alone, celebrating by reading the words of a venture capitalist who is also a Black woman; celebrating the dean of my law school who is also a Black woman; celebrating a judge on the D.C. circuit and Supreme Court nominee who is also a Black woman; and celebrating me, a sociologist and aspiring corporate lawyer who is also a Black woman. Powerful and grateful are not strong enough words to describe it.
One day, I know I will be able to point to this moment, when I watched Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rise above the distractions and noise to pave the way for those of us coming behind her. I just hope that, in my own time, I can do the same.
“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact John O’Rourke at email@example.com. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.
Beautifully written. Thanks so much for sharing your experience Alesha!
Thank you for bringing us inside your magical journey and letting us feel the excitement. Her composure made me smile and understand what “standing on the shoulders of giants” means. Your words that question whether you were deserving of your next steps into corporate law hit home for me as I struggle to learn how to just walk through and organize a literature review and remain on topic. Sometimes I wonder if someone fell asleep on their computer and pressed the “Accepted” checkbox as they startled awake and have been too kind to let me know. Thank you for your story.
Class of ‘23
It is no fun when your very identity limits the likelihood of being given “the benefit of the doubt that others receive.” Taking away that luxury from those who look a certain way, or are in some sense heterodox, is an unfortunate maneuver we see from both extremes of the main political aisle.
Thanks for the reflections!
She handled herself very well. And she will serve for a very long time!