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Black women are leaning into joy throughout Jackson’s hearings: ‘We need to celebrate this’

Women are showing their support of the Supreme Court nominee at rallies and watch parties throughout the week

Supporters of the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rally outside of the Supreme Court on Monday. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
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If Emanuela Cebert’s father were alive, she would have been watching the first day of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings on TV with him.

But on Monday morning, Cebert, 35, stood among a throng of Jackson supporters on the steps of the Supreme Court, wearing a T-shirt with Jackson’s illustrated image on it. The jubilant crowd, many of them Black women, had rallied to support the federal judge’s historic nomination. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Born in the 1930s, Cebert’s father, who died of covid-19 last year, grew up during the height of the civil rights movement and was always tuned in to what was going on in the country, she said.

“I know he would have been so happy to be here and see a Black woman at this level of government,” Cebert said. “It was really important for me to be here.”

Monday’s rally, timed with the start of Jackson’s confirmation hearings, was an assertion of joy amid a confirmation process that has made some Black women leaders wary of how racism, sexism and party politics could shape the conversation. The event was put together by Black women-led organizations, including the National Women’s Law Center, Black Women’s Roundtable, the National Urban League and historically Black sororities. And it was just the first of many held by and for Black women throughout the week.

“We need a little joy in this moment,” said Glynda Carr, a political strategist and co-founder of Higher Heights, a group that helps elect and support Black women in politics.

“If that little joy comes in the fact that this woman looks like us — looks like me, from my hair to my glasses to the hue of my skin — it gives you the possibilities that exist, in that we can always reach higher,” she added.

Jackson may be sitting at the table by herself this week, but Carr and others said they wanted her to feel a wave of support behind her. In addition to the Monday morning rally, Black women’s groups across the country have organized virtual and in-person watch parties to commune and help soak in the moment. So far in the hearings, Republicans have expressed criticism that the nominee is “soft on crime”; they’ve also called her a favorite of the “radical left” and have attempted to tie her to critical race theory.

On Monday afternoon, the Black Women’s Collective hosted a watch party in a Hyatt conference room in downtown D.C.

Attendees helped themselves to potato salad and sandwich fixings during a live stream of the hearing. Tables were set with yellow tablecloths; framed photos of Jackson sat at the center. Around the room, purple posters bearing the hashtag #ConfirmJudgeJackson papered the walls. An online version of the watch party was also available, with featured guest speakers weighing in on the hearing.

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson faced questions from senators on March 22 during the second day of her confirmation hearing. (Video: Joy Yi, Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Ketanji Brown Jackson is making history. Some Black women leaders are wary of how she’ll be questioned.

Back at the Supreme Court on Monday, rally speakers had beseeched the crowd to yell louder so Jackson, who sat across the street before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Capitol building, could feel their presence.

“Let’s make sure she hears us,” said Sabriya Williams, co-founder of She Will Rise, a campaign aiming to help propel a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

The morning was filled with prayers and call-and-response chants: “When I say ‘Justice,’ you say ‘Jackson!’” was a frequent refrain. In the crowd, attendees wore replicas of Jackson’s black-framed eyeglasses, and the jurist’s image appeared in bright colors on buttons, shirts, sweatshirts and posters. Between speeches, Beyoncé’s “Black Parade” and “Brown Skin Girl” blasted from the speakers.

A handful of protesters opposing Jackson’s nomination also showed up on Monday. Shouting through bullhorns — and accompanied by the steady beating of a pail drum — they shouted chants of “Abortion hurts women” and “Not today, KBJ.”

But Jackson’s supporters held the protesters at bay and riffed on the chants with one of their own: “Every day, KBJ” they shouted back.

“If people aren’t talking about you, you’re not doing anything,” said Brittany Dunn, a third-year law student at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge. Dunn was one of dozens of law students from around the country who descended on the nation’s capital to support Jackson.

In town for only a couple days, Dunn had been sending her mom and dad “a billion text messages” ahead of the hearings, she said. The energy of the rally was “amazing,” she said, noting the diversity of racial backgrounds, genders and economic backgrounds among the attendees.

“It’s just beautiful to see. Representation really matters,” said Dunn, referring to Jackson. “This just shows me that I have a chance to do this in my future — my near future.”

Over the past two days, policymakers and pundits have highlighted a stark set of statistics. The number of justices who have served on the nation’s highest court: 115. The number of White men appointed: 108. The number of women justices in the court’s history: five. The number of Black women: zero.

As Jackson responded to questions from U.S. senators on Tuesday, watch parties were also a safe space to give unfiltered commentary on the proceedings, Black women said, and to cheer on Jackson’s responses.

When Jackson walked into the Senate Judiciary hearing on Tuesday morning, excited murmurs swept through the conference room at the Capitol Hill Hilton, where 50 Black law students from 16 schools around the country had gathered to watch the hearings. Demand Justice, along with the Black Public Defender Association and the National Black Law Students Association, organized the event.

“Look at my girl,” an attendee said as Jackson sat down.

Jackson’s short, slightly perplexed responses to questions from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) drew repeated applause and laughter.

She repeatedly stressed her neutrality as a judge, but Jackson also acknowledged the impact she could have on women and girls, particularly Black women. Having four women on the Supreme Court could be “extremely meaningful,” she said, adding that since her nomination, she has received “so many notes” from little girls across the country.

“We want, I think, as a country for everyone to believe that they can do things like sit on the Supreme Court,” Jackson said on Tuesday. “So having meaningful numbers of women and people of color … matters.”

Simone Yhap, a 24-year-old law student at Northeastern University and national chair of the National Black Law Students Association, called the energy in the room “joyful galvanizing.”

Yhap recalled watching President Obama’s inauguration in her middle school auditorium. Now, on the brink of being a practicing attorney, Yhap said it was important to show up in D.C. to support Jackson — to “physically demonstrate that we’ve got her back.”

For Yhap, the moment is not just historic: Jackson’s career models all that can be possible for young Black women, said Yhap. “She has broken the glass ceiling that others have imposed upon us, and we’re stepping all over these shards.”

For others, the rallies and watch parties have been a family affair.

Nadia Brown, a government professor and chair of the women’s and gender studies program at Georgetown University, likened the atmosphere at the Monday rally to a family reunion. She brought 4- and 2-year-old daughters, Nuri and Neva Brown-Lawrence, to the Supreme Court to witness the moment.

“It didn’t feel like anyone was strangers,” Brown said. “We’re part of this Black women’s sisterhood, and we were there to uplift another sister.”

At her Tuesday afternoon class, Brown planned to show the second day of the hearings for her students — to help them consider the ways Black women have historically been shut out of government institutions, she said.

But on Monday morning, Brown was a parent “running on adrenaline,” trying to get her daughters out of the house and to the Supreme Court.

It was important to Brown to share the moment with her daughters, because in the judge, Brown sees a powerful political figure that her daughters can relate to on a more intimate, familiar level: a dark-skinned Black woman who wears glasses and styles her natural hair in microlocs. Nuri noticed the resemblance, Brown said.

“Look at her hair,” she told Brown. “It’s like mine.”

Brown feels like the political landscape will get worse: She is wary of the kinds of questions and criticism Jackson will weather through this week, and expects the year’s midterms to bring bad news for Democrats, particularly in light of increasingly aggressive voting restrictions.

When that happens, Brown said, she wants to return to the feeling of triumph and communion she feels now: “This is the legacy that our foremothers have worked for. We need to celebrate this.”

“There will be a fight and a battle tomorrow, but in this, we can just say, look what we have done,” she continued. “Black women did this.”

correction

An earlier version of this story misstated the title of a song by Beyoncé. The song is "Brown Skin Girl," not "Brown-Skinned Girl."

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