Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Credit: US District Court for the District of Columbia photo

Dear Editor:

Since the announcement of her nomination, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been heralded for the prestige her Ivy League background has afforded her, including serving in her current role on the D.C. federal appellate court. Reformers emphasized the importance of her record as a public defender and anyone who saw this a moment worthy of celebration, acknowledged the historical significance of her nomination. But few have isolated her perfectly coiled, yet noticeably different style of hair. Beyond representation, having a judge serve on the nation’s highest court with locs legitimizes Black hair in one of its truest forms.

Largely influenced by Rastarian culture, locs were the style of choice in various iterations of afrocentric expression in Black American culture. Images of bohemian rappers in the early ’90s strike the earliest of memories, and then those of neo-soul artists like Bilal, Lalah Hathaway, and India Arie a decade later. Nowadays all the rappers below the Mason Dixon line seem to have Skittle-colored ones. Jackson’s may be Sisterlocks, but when she arrived at her choice, she joined all of us in our dismissal of the standardization of straight hair. It may be spiritual for some and more aesthetical for others, but having locked hair is a political decision for everyone, repudiating one of the many ways Black bodies are held hostage by the law.

Every trip to the airport is made into a scene as TSA guards render it necessary to pat the puffy parts atop my head and then my dangling cowrie shells, as they wait to see if anything will detonate. As of right now, only 12 states have laws prohibiting hair discrimination in schools and workplaces. In 2020, a federal appeals court ruled that banning an employee from wearing their hair in locs did not suffice as racial discrimination. Like clockwork, this country imposes additional barriers on Black folks who dare to assert pride in our existence. It absolutely matters that the next Supreme Court justice rejects usage of what certainly always felt to me like the ultimate Master’s Tool—a comb.

We are able to celebrate a dark-skinned Black woman with locs named Ketanji Brown Jackson because of the Black women-led She Will Rise campaign. Yet, given the success of right-wing movements of the past few decades, hair discrimination does not rank in the 99th percentile of all that is at stake in our corrupted courts. The push for much-needed reform will only intensify as states like Florida and Texas advance efforts to further criminalize abortion and the life experiences of queer people. Hell, the Supreme Court is just the tip of the iceberg. The Black women who mobilized around this evitable opening are keenly aware of it all, but we honor progress however it comes. And considering that people who look like Jackson have more often than not sided with progress, how is acknowledgement of her entire being not understood as part of the solution?


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