- Black women are often asked to defend their presence in spaces that they are historically excluded from.
- Black women have a history of rallying behind and with others for rights and benefits that they are often excluded from.
- In therapy, we can use empowering and strengths-based approaches while working to develop networks of support for Black women.
By Jasmine R. Berry, M.A., and Erica D. Marshall-Lee, Ph.D., on behalf of the Atlanta Behavioral Health Advocates
Disclaimer: This blog post is not endorsing any specific political party or action, but rather it is contributing to the conversation about why Black women should be included in all leadership positions.
Why should a Black woman sit on the Supreme Court?
Many have written about, spoken out loud, and pondered this question since President Joe Biden’s announcement of the first-ever nomination of a Black woman as a Supreme Court Justice. It seems innocuous on the surface, but “Why a Black woman?” has always been much less of a question than it is an assertion: that Black women need to justify and defend their presence in spaces that they have, historically, been excluded from.
There’s a short answer to the question, of course: that Black women have been shut out, looked over, and outright ignored in this process since the formation of the United States Supreme Court; that we, as a nation, should be committed to moving the needle of social justice forward and striving to progress beyond the status quo; that we should be taking intentional steps to dismantle oppression and systemic/structural racism; that we should be actively recruiting and retaining members of BIPOC groups, and individuals who are non-male, differently-abled, non-Christian, and non-heterosexual cisgender; that instead of asking, “Why a Black woman?” we should be asking, “Why not a Black woman?”
The long answer to this question is a little more nuanced. Throughout history, Black women have disproportionately been placed in the role of caregiving: entrusted with caring for children and taking care of families that were not their own. Even today, Black women are more likely than any other intersection of identities to find themselves in informal caregiving roles, putting the needs of others even before their own health (Jeffries, 2015). Black women marched for universal suffrage and equal rights while being excluded from the benefits of their efforts, and have consistently organized for, rallied behind, and cared for marginalized communities while being left out of the conversation and continuously excluded from the benefits of their efforts. Black women not only deserve to be considered and prioritized for nominations, but have also earned the right to carry the title of a Supreme Court Justice.
Throughout history and in the present day, Black women have balanced being resilient, strong, and fearless, while also being nurturing, vulnerable, kind, and patient. And while Black women aren’t the only individuals possessing these qualities, they are one of the few groups systematically overlooked despite exhibiting these qualities. We look for leaders who comport themselves with fairness, patience, assertiveness, thoughtfulness, intelligence, tolerance, love, and generosity. And then we ask, “Why a Black woman?” as if it’s genuine curiosity and not a dangerous way of implying that Black women aren’t as qualified as any other potential Supreme Court candidate.
Again, the question should be “Why not a black woman?”
For centuries, Black women have been leaders, educators, and activists. They have fought for their families, children, and communities, and rallied behind others to fight for their families, children, and communities. For centuries, Black women have fought for this country, prioritizing the needs of others first in public, community, interpersonal, and individual domains, much to their own detriment, rarely reaping the benefits of the equality, justice, and freedom they rally for. Their repayment? A society that views them as impostors, as less worthy, as an afterthought, or as a nuisance, as they ask, “Why a Black woman?” with the conscious or unconscious intent of discrediting everything the “Black woman” has ever done. Black women have voices that are rarely heard; faces that are rarely seen and yet they still rally, advocate, and refuse to remain silent in fighting for the voices of everyone around them.
This begs the questions: who better to empathize with and understand injustice? Who better to possess the desire to rectify violations of our country’s laws with an equitable and judicious lens? Who better to sympathize with and identify with the strength and pain of every citizen in our society?
Who better to uphold the laws, work towards equitable change, embrace the intersecting identities, and hear the concerns, struggles, and worries of this country’s citizens?
That is why a Black woman.
What can we do as psychologists and citizens?
We can address the patriarchy and dominant White culture by confronting it head-on. This takes place by making a systemic commitment to change, which is what we are currently observing, at least in some ways, in our country. When Black women are pulled from the margins of society and stronger representation occurs, steps toward visibility and value can be witnessed. The presence of Black women in powerful positions traditionally occupied by White men destabilizes the status quo and disrupts the dominant narrative that Black women are unintelligent, unsophisticated, unreliable, unappealing. We can consider Critical Race Feminism (Wing, 1997) which accounts for the intertwined reality of sexism, racism, and oppression in the daily lives of Black women, paying homage to their personal knowledge and expression to increase understanding and action.
Individually, we can speak out when we witness injustice. We can give voice to the Black girls and women who are discounted, never to see justice. When Black women are abused, wrongly incarcerated, passed over for employment, housing, promotion, or raises, we can protest, petition, call our legislators, pen position statements, and lobby; not only to right wrongs but to uplift Black women to their rightful place in society. In therapy, we can use empowering and strengths-based approaches while working collaboratively to fortify, build, and develop the network and support of Black women.
Collectively, we can organize campaigns, initiate grassroots efforts, make phone calls, craft emails and letters, and write Op-Eds to bring attention to the beauty, strength, and humanity of Black women.
Ultimately, I hope you will join me in accomplishing our vision of a world that places value on Black women and their contributions to society and our world. Perhaps we will live in a world where the question “Why a Black woman?” never arises.
Jeffries, R. (2015). Fortitudinous femininity: Black women's resilience in the face of struggle. The Western Journal of Black Studies, 39(2), 81-84.
Wing, A. K. (Ed.). (1997). Critical race feminism: A reader. NYU Press.