March 28, 2022

ST. HILAIRE | When Will Our Hard Work and Credentials Be Enough

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I don’t know if it’s my personal TikTok algorithm or whether all of you seem to be on the Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson side of Tiktok too. Not that far removed from Tiktok’s normal M.O., I’ve found this portion of my “For You” page to be as unpredictable as the rest of what the algorithm has tried to convince me is for me. 

Now that we have settled that, there is one video that seems to be a recurring theme lately, and it’s the one we all know. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the Harvard Law educated United States Senator, with a straight face asked Jackson if she thought babies were racist. Now, you, like me, might have wondered what this question could possibly have to do with the role of Supreme Court justice — the role that he and the other 99 United States senators were supposed to be vetting her for. But, after I picked my jaw up from the ground and rolled my eyes, I settled on the fact that it was completely unrelated. Who’s to say that the most obvious answer can’t also be correct? 

What sticks out to me most about that clip is not even Cruz’s question, which was, I hope we can all agree, embarrassing, but rather Jackson’s reaction. A measured pause, a sigh and then an eloquent response that communicated that the question was entirely irrelevant (and stupid, but she didn’t add that part). I remember seeing it for the first time, shaking my head and realizing that I’m not yet strong enough to field such asinine questions on a national stage. It was comforting to see the commenters who acknowledged similar shortcomings. To have worked that hard and not even be questioned on those years of effort and experience would surely elicit some type of groan, maybe even a change in tone signaling my frustration. Admittedly, I still struggle with letting people be blatantly wrong about certain things.

While I will not pretend to be able to field the ridiculous challenges of white men that great women like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (learn every syllable!) and Vice President Kamala Harris, that doesn’t mean that I or other black women on this campus are ignorant to strangers challenging our intelligence or credentials regardless of their own identities.

At a younger age, I thought that with enough education and experience, incidents like that would stop. I just assumed that at a certain point, your qualifications would become indisputable because you have degrees, resumes and recommendations to support how amazing you are. I was so wrong. Jackson is hands-down the most qualified person to sit on the bench, and that’s after taking into account the accomplishments of the current justices. The Washington Post broke her qualifications down in an extremely effective infographic that I recommend.  Essentially, it shows that in terms of both education and career, the other justices cannot measure up to Jackson’s education and extensive legal career. Regardless, she has been interrogated about everything but the things that matter — her time at Harvard Law and various experiences serving as a Supreme Court Clerk, public defender, a member on the Sentencing Commission and time as both a District Judge and Court of Appeals Judge. Instead, Senators like Cruz, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) chose to focus on extraneous topics like the number of times Jackson attends religious services, her definition of womanhood and finally, the concept of racist babies.

It’s ridiculous, but unsurprising. I find myself desensitized to it all lately. For a long time, I didn’t even know if I would see a Black, female Supreme Court justice in my lifetime. I think those feelings made it impossible for me to envision a Black woman’s confirmation hearings to go any differently from what we are seeing now. As the Senate was holding hearings for a Black woman, I was listening to The Daily discuss said hearings and the precarity of discussing race during them. I watched Republicans thus resort to grasping at straws in an attempt to discredit a woman whose legal philosophy could potentially align with theirs. It’s a grim reality and a poor reflection on our elected officials. But after a Capitol riot, Donald Trump and his vehement desire to, for months, convince us that the ongoing global pandemic was really not that big of a deal, my bar for nonsense within our government seems to have been raised, and I guess what’s happening right now hasn’t quite hit it yet. 

As a young Black woman going into law, who has existed in corporate spaces and held leadership positions (including that of associate editor for The Sun) on this campus, I’ve had to accept challenges as part of leadership. I think that this is a reality for young Black women both on and off Cornell’s campus. Before I retired as editor, I had to convince individuals who had issues with published opinion columns or dining and arts pieces that I was the person in charge, that as the 139th associate editor I was the highest you could go, since the editor-in-chief would redirect you back to me anyway. It was our side of the paper — Odeya Rosenband ‘22’s and mine — yet I had to fight to prove it over and over again despite the dozens of mastheads with my name on them that already did so.

What I have noticed, however, is that the challenges do become weaker and weaker the more power we have. While I have yet to figure out what the magic spell is to make them stop, I have, as someone told me this week, learned to let myself be angry about the things that I’m passionate about — the things that bother me — and how to advocate for myself. Gone are the days of shocked expressions, weak responses and acceptance of the inferiority that the world is trying to place on me. 

I just turned 21, I’m still searching for the beauty and poise that women like Jackson, Harris, my mother and the other Black women around me have mastered. When I enter “the real” world in a little over two months, I doubt that it will come without challenges or that I will have the poise to gently but firmly withstand such challenges to my accomplishments or leadership. But hopefully there is a time for some group of Black girls where people aren’t so eager to steal their light and joy with ridiculous remarks.

Catherine St. Hilaire (she/her) is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. She previously served as associate editor of the 139th board. Candid Cathy runs every other Tuesday this semester.