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Opinion: Being Black Is Good, But It’s Never Enough

Opinion: Being Black Is Good, But It’s Never Enough

Black representation

Photo: Barack Obama, Sept. 20, 2017, zz/PBG/AAD/STAR MAX/IPx 2017 9/20/

I remember voting for Barack Obama in 2008.

I was 25 years old and excited at the possibility of having a Black president. I remember sharing with someone that I was voting for him because he was Black. When they asked why, I said that white presidents had their chance to not be perfect: let a Black president get a chance.

At the time, it felt like a sophisticated answer. However, looking back, it seemed more honest than sophisticated. That’s because, over the years, I’ve learned that being Black simply isn’t good enough.

To be clear, representation does matter.

Seeing a Black man in the White House no doubt did something for the esteem of Black people and there was a level of Black aesthetic that was on display that made the United States a bit more familiar. But the reality was that President Obama presided over an empire that took the “rising-tide-lifts-all-boats” posture with Black people.

So, when Joe Biden says that he promises to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, I ask, at age 39, which Black woman?

I ask what are her politics? Is she a moderate with respect to her interpretation of the constitution and/or court precedent or is she conservative? Better yet, is she an originalist, constructionist or activist judge?


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Will she protect the voting rights of Black people — although the court continues to erode Black voting rights? Will she protect a woman’s right to choose — although the court seems to be eroding that also? Does she believe in the strictest of standards to prove racism in the court? Is she a believer in colorblindness?

Being Black is great. But being skinfolk isn’t nearly enough.

Sadly, the Supreme Court become politicized. Although people will point to the court as the arbiter of what’s right and what’s wrong, there are many examples of decisions that have harmed Black people, including Shelby v. Holder, the unwanted gift that keeps on giving. In most cases, one vote doesn’t necessarily swing a decision, but on the high court it often does and if being Black was enough, certain precedents wouldn’t be what they are.

The current Negro on the court serves as an example of that.

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Again, representation matters. As an educator, I am aware of what Black teachers mean for the educational outcomes of Black students. But we’ve had Black police chiefs and Black people continue to get brutalized by police. We’ve had Black prosecutors and they’ve still put Black men in prison. We’ve had Black mayors and the best they can do is paint Black Lives Matter on a street.

The institutions of this country are white institutional spaces. We may enter them but we don’t set the agendas. Whiteness is so entrenched and institutionalized that we get drained simply attempting to change things and the exhaustion causes us to either quit or give in.

Quite honestly, it’s unfair to put the responsibility of fighting more than 400 years of white supremacy during a two-to-four-year political term on the sole Black person, or few Black people, chosen to function amidst a sea of white people, but I digress.

Black folks need someone familiar in skin tone but also in mind. We don’t all agree on everything of course, however, there is a perspective that is rooted in the Black radical tradition and Black freedom struggle that needs to be on the high court.

My advice to Joe Biden is to make sure the pick is both skinfolk and kinfolk alike.

Photo: Barack Obama, Sept. 20, 2017. (zz/PBG/AAD/STAR MAX/IPx 2017 9/20/)

Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .