As Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson continues to face questions in the Senate about her eligibility to serve as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, one aspect of the historic nomination has become another reason for the Black community to celebrate: her incredibly well-kept locs.
“While her biggest accomplishment on the table is not what her hair looks like,” Bindi Marc, a YouTuber with more than 43,000 subscribers who focuses on Black beauty, including natural hair, said in a video last month. “Wow, what a moment to just take a minute and recognize where we are. We have an unambiguously Black woman being considered to fill the seat, and she has locs. She doesn’t have a relaxer. She’s not wearing a weave. She has her natural hair locked into beautiful ropes of hair.”
Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, who’s now on Day Three of her confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., seems to have as much bipartisan support as a nominee can have in the modern era of American politics. The 51-year-old D.C. native has over two decades of experience as a public defender and district court and appellate judge. Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell and retired House representative Paul Ryan have vouched for her—even as others in the party have tried to use their frustration over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process in 2018 to justify questioning her ability to serve on the nation’s highest court.
But as Jackson continues to make her case to the Senate Judiciary Committee, her hairstyle alone speaks volumes to Black visibility in politics and the changing landscape of Black acceptance in mainstream American culture.
“Not only are we very close to confirming the first Black woman, but that she is wearing her hair in a protective style called 'Sisterlocks' is also an incredibly important and powerful statement,” Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley told reporters Tuesday.
Sisterlocks—created by Dr. JoAnne Cornwell, a former professor of Africana studies and French at San Diego State University in the early 1990s—are a natural style of tightly interlocked micro locs known for their versatility: They can be worn up into a bun or ponytail, down on the shoulders, or really any other style.
While general societal equity still has a long way to go before the Black community reaches parity with its white counterpart, little victories like seeing a nominee for the highest court wear a familiar and totally Black hairstyle can be a powerful reminder of how far things have come.
In an opinion piece for NBC News, Robyn Autry, the sociology department chair at Wesleyan University, wrote that Jackson’s hair shows prominent people finally bucking the expectations of what’s been considered the norms of grooming.
“The significance of appearance isn’t just about styling choices,” Autry wrote. “It’s about identity, life experience, and perspective.”
Just last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a federal version of the “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” or CROWN Act. The CROWN Act, versions of which have been passed in 14 states and over 30 cities, outlaws public institutions and employers from discriminating or refusing to service someone against someone based on their hair.
The federal bill is expected to pass in the Senate in the coming months, and President Joe Biden has already signaled his administration’s support. The CROWN Act is a long time coming for a nation that directed scorn at the “unprofessionalism” of traditional Black hairstyles for decades.
Jackson’s nomination is another reminder that those old-fashioned sentiments on Black hairstyles are dying.
Getting sisterlocks is also an involved and often expensive process with certified consultants in 40 states who specialize in providing the iconic look. The style showcases the patience, care, and commitment that goes into creating natural Black hair.
“It’s about so much more than hair, it’s about self-esteem because you can now have something that makes you feel like you can be you,” Dr. Cornwell said in a San Diego Insider segment. “As Black women, we have never had the experience of setting beauty standards for the majority culture.”
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