From Ebony Magazine — Perhaps it shouldn’t matter to anyone –but it does. While it may be years before we see the first African American woman president, we could have and should have had a shot at the first African American female justice. Even more troubling, there was no public cry for one, save a few brave radio DJ’s. When the short list of qualified candidates was being vetted around Washington, no one asked why there was no mention of black women.
If nothing else, think about the proud heritage that person would draw upon. Imagine a woman who hails from the same spirit of Harriet Tubman, or Sojourner Truth, or even the late Dorothy Height. There is a certain dignity that comes with being an African American woman. It defies schooling, and transcends pedigree. An African American woman should have been considered by the president because without them, we, and I’m speaking as an African American male, would not be where we are today. Neither would he.
It was the black female who nursed our wounds during slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement, and crack and prison – wrong or right. It was the black female who stood strong when the voices of the black male were being lynched or silenced. It was the black female who raised our children when thousands of black men, many innocent, went to prison for crimes they did not commit. Each day we learn of a man who spent decades in prison, guilty of one thing, and only one thing, being black.
Imagine the wisdom of Oprah Winfrey on the bench, or the eloquence of Maya Angelou arguing cases in the chambers. Imagine the discipline of a woman who, like Harriet Tubman, led her people from slavery. Black women did so then, they continued to do so today. What’s wrong with Justice Winfrey or Angelou, or Gilmore?
Gilmore? Okay, I admit I’m a bit prejudiced here. Judge Vanessa Gilmore, is also a friend. But she’s also a Federal Judge who sits on the bench in Houston. She possesses quick wit, a sharp tongue, and wisdom beyond her years.
A Clinton appointee, Gilmore is the embodiment of the African American female. She is strong, independent, and outspoken when needed and silent when silence matters. She is a single mom, raising an adopted child, a male, and she is doing it well. Like many before her, she did not graduate from Harvard or Yale, but instead a lesser known school. Despite that, she rose through the ranks of the legal system and did well enough to get the attention of then President Bill Clinton. For those reasons alone, she deserved a shot at becoming the first African American female Supreme Court Justice.
The late Ginger Rogers once said of her dance partner, Fred Astaire, that she did everything he did only backwards. Black women do all of their things their white female counterparts do, only with a degree of difficulty.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Elena Kagan, the woman Obama picked. I’m sure she is a qualified woman or the president wouldn’t have nominated her. But the statement that would have been delivered had he chosen an African American woman, would have been powerful. It would have recognized the contributions of so many who blazed the path before him. It would have put on notice the all white male establishment that only recently opened its doors to white women. It was that way in Washington when I arrived in this town twenty five years ago, and still is. Only a handful of women of color have pierced the ranks. It would have been the right thing to do.