Strong black women have surrounded me for most of my life. I cannot speak, personally, to accomplished women of other races, which I know there are many, but I can rely on my own experience. I was raised by a black woman—born pre-1910—who mentored and protected five generations of my family before her death in 1979. She worked hard and swallowed the swill fed to her by white bosses even harder. One of the legendary stories in my family was an encounter between her and the racist owner of the-then Washington Redskins football team.
By the mid-nineteen sixties, I was a huge fan of the Commanders, nee Redskins, mainly because of Bobby Mitchell, their first black player. George Preston Marshall, the franchise owner, also owned a successful chain of laundry mats in Washington called the ‘Palace’ laundries. My great-grandmother pressed and folded sheets for one of his establishments in the late 1930s, making about 40 bucks a month. Her son, my great-uncle, hated the team and would taunt me after every loss. I could not understand; it was the home team. I would ask myself, how could he not root for them? Later, my great granny told me that Mr. Marshall would make the rounds of his laundry franchise during the week. Allegedly, according to my GG, he would walk in, cigar blazing, stand in the midst of the steam, and bellow loudly, “ how are my pickaninnies today?” Hence her son’s disdain for the team and him.
My aunt worked for the government; one of my sisters was a noncommissioned officer in the army. My cousin was a financial advisor, all in white male-dominated settings. My daughter-in-law is pursuing a postgraduate degree in neurosciences, and my oldest son’s fiancée is a teacher. I was reminded of this when I watched the pained and strained expression of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. I thought of them all, having to hear and swallow hard—as my great grandmother did many years before.
Unrelated questions of Justice Kavanaugh’s failure to demonstrate the same judicial temperament she portrayed became fodder for her interrogation. With each silly question and intellectual rebuff, the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grew more frustrated and belligerent. It finally reverted into shouting, rude interruptions, and spitting anger because they could not break Judge Brown Jackson. Digesting the garbage and racist taunts of those around them and coming out smiling is a talent black women have honed for hundreds of years.
What made them believe that Ketanji Brown Jackson had not heard or seen racist vitriol before. Did Messrs., Hawley, Graham, Cruz, and Cotton think she would shout about her beer-drinking habits amid their turmoil? When Graham asked her to rate her faith between 1-10, was he hoping for horns to grow? Was Tom Cotton hoping she would pull out her keys to the basement dungeon at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria? The motives were evident, the racism dripped, and the sexism was predictable. This morning Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell added to the hypocrisy and idiocy when he wrote, explaining his no vote, “I also understand Judge Jackson was the favored choice of far-left dark-money groups that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure of the Court itself.”
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