Unspoken, except by herself

Ketanji Brown Jackson

Has anyone else noticed that our newly confirmed Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, describes herself as a dark-skinned Black woman? Not just a Black woman but a dark-skinned black woman. She is owning something that is rarely talked about when we talk about race: That the burden of discrimination falls more heavily on people whose skin is darker. I think we all know that this is true intuitively, but it’s never mentioned. Certainly, the mainstream media, which wrote extensively about Jackson’s life, was silent on this issue. And for good reason. They almost certainly would have been accused of racism for focusing on the skin color of our wonderful soon-to-be Supreme Court justice. I myself would not be writing about it now if Judge Jackson had not claimed it for herself publicly.

So what does it mean to be a dark-skinned black woman? It means that when employers are looking to hire someone, for the Supreme Court or any other job, even if they are specifically seeking a Black woman, they would probably be more comfortable hiring a light-skinned black woman. Say, more like Condoleezza Rice than Ketanji Brown Jackson.

There is an extra price to be paid for dark skin. I have a friend who is Black and an actress. She is incredibly talented and brilliant in comedy as well as serious drama. She’s also beautiful and graceful and tall and slender and a great singer. She checks all the actress boxes except blond and blue-eyed. One afternoon, she was having lunch with me and another friend who was white. She had to leave early because she was going to an audition. It was for a new play at a major theater that had a large cast — all Black. It was a very political play with lots of singing and dancing. What’s not to like?!? The whole theater community was buzzing about it, and my actress friend passionately wanted to be part of it. I was excited for her and certain she would be cast. As she was getting up to leave, she expressed anxiety about her appearance. After she hurried off, my white friend said, “Why would she of all people be worried about how she looks? She’s so beautiful!” I said, “Yes, but her skin is very dark and maybe that makes a difference.” Still, I was sure she would be cast.

I was wrong, and I was shocked. When I went to see the production, I saw that no one in the cast was as dark-skinned as my friend. There was also no one as talented. It just didn’t seem fair.

Of course, life is unfair for almost everyone, not just dark-skinned Black actresses. And in my experience, art is even more unfair than life. So it is possible that my friend not being cast had absolutely nothing to do with the beautiful deep color of her skin. But I doubt it. It was a big cast.

So, kudos to President Biden for choosing an incredibly qualified, dark-skinned Black woman as the new Supreme Court justice! And kudos to Ketanji Brown Jackson for publicly claiming her dark skin.

I can’t help but wonder if the color of Justice Jackson’s skin contributed to the total contempt the Republicans expressed toward her during the hearings. Do you think those slime buckets would have treated her with more respect if her skin had been lighter? I do.

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Terry Baum is an actress, director, teacher, filmmaker, political activist, and award-winning lesbian playwright. Her blog BAUMBLOG is a “Top 100 LGBTQ Blog.”

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Terry Baum

Terry Baum

Terry Baum is an actress, director, teacher, filmmaker, political activist, and award-winning lesbian playwright. Her blog BAUMBLOG is a “Top 100 LGBTQ Blog.”

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