There is a meme going around on social media that if you receive a certain picture, it has symbolic meaning. Until a few days ago, I would have sent a picture of Supreme Court Justice (and my Soror) Ketanji Brown Jackson to represent the disgust my fellow Black sisters in law feel whenever we have to defend ourselves against specious attacks. She's definitely in the arsenal, as well as a picture of Spelman Founder Sophia Packard (which might not pack the same punch to anyone unfamiliar with how the Spelmafia rolls) but I think my go-to may now be Fani Willis.
If you get this from me, it means you done started something you'd best be prepared to finish. And if you read that and thought, hmm, shouldn't she have said better, then Imma caution you to watch your step and tread lightly. Because if you're judging my delivery and command of the English language in addition to questioning my intelligence while feigning sincerity, this not gonna end well attall!
I spent the better part of two days last week seeing shades of red that I didn't know existed in nature. It began with my frustration over comments made by a certain political pundit who helped Al Gore lose his home state of Tennessee in 2000. That must have provided cover for all of the other keyboard pundits, most of them nonlawyers, to opine about what Ms. Willis should have known better not to do. Then I happened upon some of the commentary from the hotep hallways where nothing any Black woman does is celebrated. And then finally, because it is February and I missed the memo that granted blanket amnesty to all current and future racist content on social media, y'all really been on one this year. Keep at it though, we got an extra day this month...
Let's start with the low-hanging fruit and dismiss any and all musings by the ashy un-lotioned incels among us. Dear Reader, I won't waste your time in linking to that nonsense because it follows the predictable pattern of diminishing the work of any accomplished Black woman. In this case, because they can't denounce Willis for being a bed wench, they can just call her a bitch or a hoe, and those posts get lots of traction from their man-baby brethren. This is in spite of the fact that their purported hero Brother Minister Malcolm X famously said in 1962 that the Black woman is the most disrespected and unprotected person on earth. I guess they all mysteriously missed that particular speech.
On the opposite end, as much as we appreciate the 'love' coming from our #thankaBlackwoman groupies, I am reminded that some of those people have been conditioned to believe that it is our job to clean up after them. As writer Zora Neale Hurston described it in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Black women are the mules of the world. Mules are beasts of burden, intentionally bred for hard labor. Maybe these people grew up in homes where there was a beloved Big Momma, or a trusted maid who was also the family confidante/washerwoman/cook/wet nurse. Or perhaps they watched a lot of television; regardless of what may have informed those expectations, their praises carry a tinge of, yeah just leave the dirty work for that Black lady.
Thus, the faux outrage that Willis messed things up for all Black woman in professional settings is another problematic argument being touted by the loudest Black-people-are-not-a-monolith Pick Mes. Some of these same lowercase black folks insisted for YEARZ, like trained parrots, that we are not all the same and they prided themselves on being different, independent, suburban with a tan. Suddenly, in spite of their protestations, one pissed off Black woman has the power to make all of
us you look bad to your drinking buddies. So you just had to take the time to denounce her to remind them that you are still cool, because dammit, you worked hard to be deemed acceptable and worthy to be allowed in their presence. Perhaps as atonement, they will let you buy the next round.
It is amazing to me that no matter how much we accomplish, no matter how much ballyhooed progress, it is nothing more than an intricate sand sculpture on a small beach. One wave and all of our hard work gets washed away by the tide. All of our accomplishments can be undone in a careless millisecond. Everyone else is allowed to be flawed, make mistakes, stumble through, but let a Black woman reveal the slightest vulnerability and I swear, it's like Jesus and His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. While Judas is preparing for his betrayal, the majority of the disciples are in hiding. A chosen few accompany Jesus to pray in the Garden, where they fall asleep. Startled by the arresting mob, Peter loudly denies their friendship. In our most vulnerable moments, we anticipate that someone will betray us, and we expect that most of our friends are either going to remain in hiding or are too preoccupied with their own lives to get involved. But it is Peter's denial--the gratuitous disavowals that Willis should have known better; the acquiescence that this is an unfair system built on an ever-shifting landscape; that in her hour of need some friends wouldn't risk getting as much as a toe wet even if she had walked out on water to save them from drowning...
It be your own people sometimes. Et tu, Brute???
Finally, let's talk about the I-don't-see-color because I-am-not-a-racist-BUT folks, the ones who have perfected other ways of expressing their biases. The pearl-wearing Birkin purse-clutchers who described Willis' courtroom demeanor as ghetto and made references to The Jerry Springer Show (which they must have watched). They were appalled that an angry Black woman walked into court on her own accord and left that same way, defiant and unashamed. That this Black woman with a law degree, years of prosecutorial experience, and the confidence of someone who was elected as the first woman to hold that position would stand up for herself. That this woman, who upon recognizing that her office possessed the power to pursue justice on behalf of those two Black women election workers who were harassed and defamed, decided to use that power to face off with the most powerful giant the Philistines have. That they assumed this same woman, who personally appeared in court weeks before this sordid soap opera to confront Harrison Floyd for violating the terms of his bail agreement, wasn't going to bring that same energy to court in defense of her career?
I get it, you prefer a more refined Black woman, one that doesn't have a discernable regional accent and who comports herself with dignity. Right, because when now-Justice Jackson sat for three days at a Senate hearing where it was intimated that she didn't know the difference between a law book and a J. Crew Catalogue by Senator Foghorn Leghorn, I didn't see you take offense or offer her any empathy. That Black woman also went through law school, had several prestigious federal clerkships, and was herself a federal judge--credentials no one could deny were impressive. Instead, Senator Bull McConnell attacked her demeanor as a performance which met the approval of Senator Butler Mushmouth whose theatrical thumbs down sure did ingratiate him with your MAGA crowd.
Quit playing in our faces! I could offer up the names of countless "respectable" Black women that you have disrespected for the most trivial of alleged offenses. Going back as far as Phillis Wheatley and the American Revolution, every educated Black woman has been subjected to those back-handed compliments, polite insults, and reminders that we will never be good enough. There is an entire MAGA conspiracy theory that Former First Lady Michelle Obama, the epitome of style and grace, is really a man. Madame Vice President Kamala Harris is right there, and no matter that she serves admirably as Joe Biden's work wife without breaking a sweat, these folks get on social media and act like she's the ethnic design pattern on the Oval Office drapes. Some of y'all wouldn't sit next to a respectable Black woman on a crowded city bus, so miss me with your T.J. Maxx condescension.
If Fani Willis had glided into court performing Tchaikovsky's Pas de Deux, y'all still would have called her graceless and classless. If she had worn the crown jewels and spoken with the elocution of the Queen of England, y'all still would have criticized her body language and demeanor. So Sis came to court as her authentic I-grew-up-in-DC-during-the-80s-crack-epidemic self so act like you know, and I ain't mad! (Side note, she's a fellow survivor of DC's all-girl Catholic schools from that era, so she earns extra cool point in my book for that.)
She was righteously angry about while testifying about her personal life in open court, so she opted not to code switch. Unlike some of these rich men who do whatever the fuck they want as long as they don't get caught, women don't receive justice by remaining silent. There would be no presumption of innocence if she hadn't spoken up for herself, only the perception of her as presented by others. And make no mistake, this was political revenge porn without any pictures, so she had every right to take the stand to debunk the crass allegations and insinuations made about her character.
You saw her Daddy. Of course he taught her to keep cash on hand and to have a plan that doesn't rely on a man. Me and all the Black women I know got this same life advice from a Black Daddy and/or Uncle. All of us also received some version of that infamous Papa Pope speech about being twice as good to get half of what they have.
It isn't my place to opine about what she should have expected if someone went rifling through her garbage. My guess is that she expected them to find trash, so even if she was sloppy about not disclosing her past relationship with her co-counsel, maybe it shouldn't have been all that shocking in the first place. God forbid she has a personal life (another sexist stereotype). They discussed work over dinner...and took some of it home...and on a couple of trips out of town. And they went Dutch! The fact that we would hold her to a higher standard of personal conduct than the former President who directed a conspiracy to commit election fraud and the harassment of election workers, is a special kind of sexism. It's the kind that conflates an ethical slip with abuse of power from the highest elected official in the land by claiming that they are equal in magnitude. She should have known better while President Trump was only trying to disenfranchise millions of voters because he's a sore loser.
Admittedly when I first saw those Jerry Springer/anti DEI talking points trending, I took it personally. It isn't just that y'all are saying the quiet parts out loud, because that ain't new. And as Willis and I are the same age, we've both endured our fair share of micro-aggressive challenges to our right to occupy spaces that were only accessible to our grandmothers for cleaning. They weren't expecting her to come in with a more powerful broom, nor that she wouldn't ask for permission before redecorating. Of course these folks hate-watched her testimony to dissect and rip the very flesh from her bones--envious haters will do whatever it takes to discredit and disqualify us.
Then I remembered another lesson my Black Daddy taught me about not accepting the negative comments and jabs that people hurl at me with their mean-spirited intentions. Yeah, they might call me all kinds of names but I don't have to answer to them, nor should I allow their descriptions of me to undermine my confidence. It is not my job to control how you interpret what I am. If ghetto is the worst insult that your feeble brains can conjure up, well that's just proof of your mediocrity, lack of imagination, and audacity.
I used to watch The Jerry Springer Show too, and from what I recall those raucous chants not only greeted Springer when he took to the stage, but also were used to de-escalate the chaos unfolding among the guests. What you heard was both an audience of Black sisters in law chanting Willis' name as she took the stand, and a necessary reminder that she's the District Attorney and she's got this.
FANI! FANI! FANI!