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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tyffani Dent

Kamala, Ketanji, and Why Black Women Are Only Cautiously Optimistic

Representation matters.

For those who say it does not, that often comes from a place of not having to seek out representation because they are deemed what is the “norm”.

They see themselves in books, and lauded in the (literally) whitewashed retelling of history.

They do not have to have months set aside to acknowledge their contributions, because their contributions are already identified as such on a daily basis---because again, society has decided that “their stories” are worthy of being told every month.

When Biden discussed being intentional in his selection of a Black woman nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States after he had already chosen an HBCU-educated Black woman as his VP, there were cries that he was being discriminatory, and not looking for the “best candidate”.

Even though recent SCOTUS nominations have clearly shown that “best” was not the adjective that determined them. There was this insistence that racial and gender identity should play no role in who was selected, although glaringly for over two centuries, gender and racial identity (white and cisgender male) were the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) criteria for such.

As a Black woman, I cheered at the announcement of a #KetanjiBrownJackson for SCOTUS. Even before Biden began to name her qualifications, I knew that this Black woman with the Black name would be fully qualified. Because as a Black woman, we have to be.

I also found myself filled with anxiety, because I also know that, as a Black woman, often being qualified is not enough. This marginalized intersection of race and gender identity often results in society “choosing” which one they are willing to allow into the room---which often results in the exclusion of us. McKinsey & Company’s The Women in the Workplace study 2021 found that the gains in representation for women overall haven’t translated to gains for women of color. Women of color continue to lose ground at every step in the pipeline—between the entry level and the C-suite, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75 percent. As a result, women of color account for only 4 percent of C-suite leaders, a number that hasn’t moved significantly in the past three years. Representation of women of color falls off relative to white employees and men of color at every level of the corporate pipeline—leaving women of color severely underrepresented at the top.

Even when we are “allowed” in, our worth is often devalued and demonstrated in our (lack of) pay. According to the U.S. Census, on average, Black women were paid 63% of what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2019.

There is an emotional toll for Black women from the moment we are considered for positions of power. We know that we will have to be 20 times better, 30 times more qualified than anyone else---and even that may not be enough. In a ThoughtCo article, percentage-wise, Black women outpace white women, Latinas, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans in postsecondary degree attainment.

We will receive messages that we have to “tone down” or womanness or our Blackness in order for others to feel more comfortable. We will have to loudly proclaim some level of loyalty to systems that oppress us, because then we will be somewhat acceptable, while walking the tightrope of not allowing our place in those systems to be used as fodder by those who want to minimize the harm they cause those who look like us.

Yesterday, Black women around the country rejoiced at Ketanji’s nomination, while we also prayed for her, and held our collective breath for what is to come. We know the dog whistles that will be used to try to undermine her.

We know the misogynoir that she will face from all fronts to attempt to demean her.

We know the weight of intersectional Black womanhood that will press down on her as she does not have the luxury of just being Ketanji, but her responses will the standard by which all Black women will be judged…so there is no room for “too much passion” or to argue against the microaggressions that will be her existence as she faces a Senate made up of many who are betting their careers on White supremacy being upheld.

We know these things because, on a smaller scale, we experience them daily.

Over this Senate Confirmation period, Black women will rally

For one of our own

As we have been expected so many times to do for those who are not us

Because we should be allowed to want representation, too

We deserve to see someone who looks like us making decisions that will impact our lives for generations to come

Yet, our joy will be tinged with resentment at the amount we have to fight to prove ourselves worthy, once again. But if there is anything we know how to do, it is fight

Because we have done it to benefit others for so long

Dr. Dent is a licensed psychologist. Her hardest job is being a Black Woman who centers the experiences of Black women and girls, because representation matters.

Make sure to “Like” her page and listen to her on the Centering Sisters Videocast on Facebook Live (@CenteringSisters) and on Youtube

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