Against the backdrop of history and on the shoulders of the nation’s Black ancestors, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson carries a heavy torch toward progress as the first Black woman to shatter the intersectional ceiling of race and gender on our nation’s highest court.
A brown-skinned woman with natural hair and an African name, Jackson also said she brought every Black woman in America with her through that glass ceiling, and she touted the nation’s success: “It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it. We’ve made it. All of us. … I am just the very lucky first inheritor of the dream of liberty and justice for all.”
Underrepresented in government, business, entertainment
Jackson’s story of accomplishment is one that can inspire all Americans. But her treatment by some lawmakers (who addressed her with disrespectful, degrading questions) during the Senate confirmation hearings is the perfect example of why the fight for Black female representation in places of power must continue. The majority of those doing the questioning were white male decision-makers.
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Across the board at every level of government, Black women are underrepresented. This is also true in other sectors – business, entertainment, tech. We have a long way to go before our representation reflects our population, our strength and our influence.
Black employment in high-skilled jobs within the tech industry, for example, grew by just 1% between 2014 and 2021, according to a March report released by the Kapor Center – a group that pushes for social justice in the tech industry – and the NAACP. Black women struggled even more when it came to support in areas such as tech entrepreneurship.
But our absence in the halls of political power is probably the most stark. Only two Black women have ever served in the Senate. The first, Carol Moseley Braun, took office in 1993. She stayed in the position for six years. The second left her seat to become vice president.
Despite Vice President Kamala Harris (a Black woman who is the first woman to hold the second most powerful position in the free world) presiding over the Senate as it voted on Jackson’s confirmation, there were zero Black female senators to vote for the judge. There are no Black female governors in this country. Fewer than 20 Black women have ever held a statewide elected executive office, and Black women hold just 354 of the country’s 7,383 state legislative seats.
We must increase the number of Black women in elected office and expand the political power of Black women in order to achieve equitable representation across all levels of government. Too often, decisions are made that impact our communities without having our voices at the table.
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By electing more Black women, by seeing more Black women in positions of power, we begin to inspire and build a pipeline of Black female decision-makers. Visibility and representation are powerful tools to inspire the next wave of lawyers, doctors, congresswomen, organizers, CEOs, teachers and Supreme Court justices. White supremacy’s tight grip on the institutions in our country prevent us from having the same opportunities as white men and women.
So many of the issues taken up by the high court – voting rights, health care access, reproductive rights and LGBTQ protections – disproportionately impact Black women and their families.
Our fight for reproductive justice is rooted in bodily autonomy – the freedom to have children, to not have children and to raise the children we do have in safe, sustainable communities. Laws in this country are written by majority white-led legislative bodies.
All eyes are pointed to the Supreme Court as dangerous abortion bans are being written across the country and we fight for the future of Roe v. Wade.
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As a justice, Jackson will continue to send the powerful message that we belong.
History was made last week, but the story of Black women’s rightful ascension into positions of power is far from over.
With us in the room, the Supreme Court, and our country, can only be made better.
Glynda Carr is president and CEO of Higher Heights for America, a nonprofit group that works to increase Black female representation in politics. She also leads the Higher Heights PAC and Higher Heights Leadership Fund. Monica Simpson is executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. The Rev. Leah Daughtry is co-convener of Power Rising and Power Rising Action Fund and campaign manager for Fighting for Our Vote.