History was made last week in the U.S. as the first Black woman to be nominated for the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson underwent her confirmation hearing. While many were looking forward to this momentous occasion, it was crudely spoiled by the racist antics of Senators who aggressively questioned Judge Jackson on subjects like critical race theory and gender identity, rather than on relevant questions pertaining to her long, successful career as a public defender and judge.
Unfortunately, treating minoritised candidates with higher scrutiny than their white counterparts is nothing new. Political commentator Lawrence O’Donnell wrote recently, “For the 1st 127 years when only white Christian men were allowed to be Supreme Court Justices, there were zero confirmation hearings. Confirmation hearing was invented for the 1st Jewish nominee.” When we see both the antisemitic and racist histories of limiting marginalised people’s access to the very institutions that will determine their rights, we can understand how people get away with this type of behaviour today.
It also helps us appreciate just how much harder someone like Judge Jackson has to work to pursue justice in an acrimonious environment that baselessly doubts her competence. While she was berated, she calmly and professionally answered ridiculous questions, something that other Black women are forced to do in all types of workplace settings in order to be respected or even heard. Professor Andra Gillepsie notes how while Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a White man, furiously escalated responses at his own confirmation hearing, if Judge Jackson had done the same she would have been deemed “the angry Black woman.”
These dynamics are pervasive, and require us to ask our own companies whether and when we apply different standards to different employees or job candidates. Who is afforded respect in the workplace and who is seen as difficult? Why is that? It is only when we interrogate our workplace policies and behaviours that we can unearth the dangerous patterns that consistently exclude Black folks from positions of leadership and power. When we understand how this happens, we can ensure our equity efforts disrupt the inequitable cycles during the hiring process.