Once again, I will step out onto the proverbial limb. This time to wager that March 23, 2022, marked the first time in history the phrase “my sister” was spoken during any confirmation hearing of a supreme court justice nominee. I would go so far as to say that it was the first time “my sister” was ever said aloud inside the senate chamber under any circumstance. When Senator Cory Booker of the Great State of New Jersey said “my sister,” it resonated with me. And yes, as a former Miss NJ USA, I said the Great State of New Jersey. As Senator Booker rendered nothing short of poetry in celebration of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, millions of women, particularly black women, across this country, and I exhaled. Personally, my exhale was a soft gasp, the “take your breath away” kind. I thought, “He’s off-script,” as if I would even know.
It was Senator Booker’s unapologetic public celebration of Judge Jackson – for me. As he allowed the emotional weight and historical context of her occupying the seat in which she sat – black women, from DC to San Diego and beyond felt seen.
Yes, It Is About Race
I was not surprised by the chorus of text-imonials proclaiming ad nauseam, “Why does it always have to be about race? That’s the problem; that is what causes the division.” No people! THAT is not what causes the division. Let’s get clarity around something. Because race IS a factor doesn’t mean it is the ONLY factor. Maybe the discomfort around the issue of race causes some to separate race as the single factor. And perhaps it is discomfort and ignorance that create, for some, deafness that prevents them from hearing that critical race theory is not being taught in elementary schools.
The reality? It is about race and much more. It’s about ethnicity, culture, and shared experiences. It’s about an unspoken understanding. It’s about blood memory. It’s about historical context. It’s about respect, love, acknowledgment, support, and appreciation. It was Senator Booker’s shoulder brush and how he identified Judge Jackson’s “mama” and the “elder” who works in his building. It’s about all of that, race, and more than you might ever understand if you continue to be stuck on race without ever wanting to understand what race even means.
Grown-Ass Women Do Cry
Senator Booker continued. At some point, I felt the tears puddling in my soul. Nothing unusual. It’s the place they’ve filled many times when I felt like crying but refused to let the tears come. Instead, they pool in that hidden space causing my heart to quicken, my head to throb, and my mind to race with the thought, “You can’t let these people see you cry here.” Then I noticed a glistening in Judge Jackson’s right eye. Instinctively, I transferred my defensiveness and protective posture to her. Don’t do it, sis. Don’t let these jackals see you cry. I wanted her to take it all in, feel everything Senator Booker was saying, and be empowered by it. Yet, I feared what might happen if she dared cry.
Many black women shared similar thoughts and feelings based on the messages I received. Would she be seen as weak, too vulnerable, easily swayed, and too sensitive if she cried? How might any show of emotion be used against her? As black women, we are often too quickly labeled angry, heralded for being strong, but rarely seen as feminine or vulnerable enough for the shedding of a tear to be acceptable.
Through the Laughter
I can’t remember who cried first, Judge Jackson or me. I remember that she laughed, and I noticed a tear run down her cheek. I smiled through mine; at her beauty, strength, grace, and ability to be whole and fully present in that moment. She embraced her vulnerability, and I breathed easier. I sat taller. What Senator Booker poured into her in those moments was pure unadulterated love. He could not have realized how it would reach out and touch so many others. Reminding us that God’s got us. Reminding us to stand; or sit if we must, with our vulnerability and joy intact – in our power. Because we are wonderfully made and whole … my sisters. Thank you, Senator Booker, my brother.