Over the course of a week, #slapgate—Will Smith slapping Oscars host Chris Rock—has dominated the discourse on mass media and social media with opinions being somewhat split. Some people have lauded the incident not only as a moment Jada Pinkett Smith was protected by her husband but also a moment wherein a Black woman was protected by a Black man. Others refute Will’s actions as an emotional response that was not done in the name of protecting Black women, but rather the actor’s ego. The questions of right, wrong, blame and the histories of all parties involved, are still swirling and are far from settled, even as Smith has excused himself from the body of the Academy of Motion Pictures and is likely not to address the matter further.
In contrast to Senator Cory Booker’s more nuanced and delicate defense of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Smith’s action were aggressive and extremely brash yet ultimately, what matters in the end is how Jada Pinkett Smith feels and felt about what happened. The same can be said about Booker’s public defense of Judge Jackson: What actually matters is the effect both of these actions have had on the Black women they are purportedly aimed at. Since Pinkett Smith has not commented at all about how she feels, (and honestly, she does not owe us that) all we are left with is our own feelings, biases, ideas and speculation that inform us on the right and wrong ways to protect Black women.
“You have earned this spot. You are worthy.”
These words from Senator Booker to Judge Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court were not just felt by the woman to whom they were spoken, but many Black women seemed to feel seen and encouraged by Booker’s words. Jackson is yet another long overdue first— she is the first Black woman nominated to become a member of the United States Supreme Court and she is also the most qualified judge in terms of her experiences as a judge. This, however, had not stopped the Republican senators from lobbing attacks at her and her record, as unfounded as those attacks might be, Jackson still had to sit there and answer them, daily. To Booker’s credit, he spent a great deal of time during his remarks essentially debunking most of their baseless claims against Judge Jackson’s record while at the same time, publicly affirming her and explaining what she personally meant to and represented for him. This may not be an experience that resonates with everyone, but it certainly resonated with Black women because on a national stage, a Black man with power and prestige used his considerable influence to defend and affirm a Black woman who given the circumstances was not necessarily in a position to defend her record at length.
Senator Cory Booker had sat and watched and waited until it was his turn to speak, and then he showed Judge Jackson his great love, admiration and respect for her by standing up for her. Booker had sat through what amounts to a days long or rather a weeklong interview process, noticing that some of the questions or more plainly, accusations that the interviewee had to sit through were completely nonsensical and were absolutely unproductive and even unprofessional. Essentially, he was extremely fed-up with how some of his co-workers were treating a potential new hire, even if they would not be working in the same department and once he was asked to talk about it, he held very little back while building a case arguing that the record of Judge Jackson was actually well above these awful arguments against her.
This too, is an example of what it looks like when Black men say loudly to leave Black women alone. There is honestly nothing extraordinary or groundbreaking about the basic structure of what Cory Booker did for Judge Jackson. He merely saw unequal and unfair treatment of a Black woman and her record and basically said–“nah, not on my watch.”
Every Black man should be able to do that, particularly if we really love Black women like we say we do. No Black women should be allowed to be mistreated, lied on or otherwise have their character questioned by unqualified people if we are around and are in a position to stop it and defend them. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, what kind of job you work, your Black women co-workers should feel like you have their backs and/or that you care about them and their well-being. No one should let them feel like they are alone or that their concerns are not being taken seriously, let them know plainly that you have their backs and you support them, and it doesn’t take a speech for you to do that. Just listen to them, take them seriously and offer to help them at every opportunity as much as you can, and if need be, defend them from baseless or personal attacks on them or their character.
It is honestly simple to be there for Black women when they need you– you just have to be consistent and you have to ultimately believe that Black women matter. Certainly Cory Booker believes Judge Jackson mattered not only to him personally, but that she matters in the grander scheme of things, that because she is where she is that the country would ultimately be better for it. That, is the kind of belief that creates a desire to see someone succeed because of the merits of what they can do will make for a better community, a better workforce, a better world. Black women certainly do not exist to save the spaces that they are in; not saviors of companies or countries, but it is often true that they make those things work better or more equitably or more tolerably because they know what it is like to be disbelieved and disloved and distrusted.
However, it is each of our duties as Black men to ensure that the burden is not squarely on their backs all the time and occasionally, we need to do what Cory Booker did and show them in no uncertain terms what it means to us that they are with us, and that we are with them and that they are equally loved, respected and cared for. Cory Booker cannot be the only one among us with the spine to stand up for Black women in a very real and honest way. We owe that much to the Black women in our spheres, and it is time that we show up for them, it is time that we love them, it is time we respect them because of who they are and what they collectively mean to us.
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