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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Opinion: Ketanji Brown Jackson’s dismissal of critical race theory is disappointing

Photo by Courtesy of Harvard University

President Joe Biden has decided to nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace Justice Stephen Breyer.

It was disappointing to hear Supreme Court justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson distance herself from critical race theory in her confirmation hearings on Tuesday, March 22. 

Prompted by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s questioning, Jackson responded, “It doesn’t come up in my work as a judge. It’s never something that I’ve studied or relied on, and it wouldn’t be something that I would rely on if I was on the Supreme Court.” It’s well known that critical race theory has been labeled by the far-right as racist. This is the same right that has led the GOP to sanction the violent assault on democracy of Jan. 6, 2021, as “legitimate political discourse.” It is this perspective on critical race theory that Jackson implicitly affirms when she not only says that she does not but would not utilize it. 

Her disavowal allows the right to retain control over how oppressed people seek to understand their oppression, articulate that understanding to themselves, and utilize knowledge as a tool of resistance. During the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, both the non-violent and confrontational positions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were considered at the very least inappropriate. King’s Civil Disobedience strategies, such as sit-ins, were met with violent responses that one would assume could only be reserved for armed and violent resistance. 

As an academic concept, critical race theory has produced heavily researched and vetted articles and books that seek to understand and articulate why minorities continue to experience systemic and structural racism that leads to negative economic, health, legal, penal and other outcomes. It has not led to anything on the order of the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, yet we are made to feel as though it must be feared as something less than “legitimate political discourse.” What’s more, the fact that the current nationwide assault on whatever the right identifies as critical race theory has in fact yielded tangible, political and legal outcomes such as Texas’s H.B. 3979 and H.B. 2497 means that the structural racism that critical race theory identifies does indeed exist. Yet, the questioning of judge Jackson in an attempt to make her answerable for the field means that the system succeeds in not only reducing systemic causes to individual choices but also in blinding us to the former. 

It would of course be politically harmful for Jackson to embrace critical race theory. However, her disavowal is a fundamentally missed opportunity to make the obvious point: the Biden administration’s initiative to nominate a black woman to the nation’s highest court is indeed an affirmation of the fact that racism is not limited to individual actions or choices but is woven into the very systems that have made it such that there has indeed never been a black woman on the court. If racism were not in fact structural, systemic and interwoven across multiple social systems, our misguided state senator would not be able to question Jackson in a way that white nominees would not be questioned and simultaneously constrain her response.
Shona Jackson is an associate professor in the Department of English at Texas A&M.

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