Old white men think they can say anything without repercussions. Days after President Joe Biden reaffirmed his intention to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, Sen. Roger Wicker from Mississippi decided it was better to be racist than be silent.
As CNN reported, Wicker was speaking on a talk radio program and remarked on what he called the irony of a Black woman joining the bench during a session when the Court is scheduled to hear a case involving affirmation action. He also said the still yet-to-be-named Black woman nominee is not likely to receive any Republican support. Sounds like petty payback.
With a few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of justices nominated in the Supreme Court’s nearly 233-year history have been white men. What makes his comments extra offensive is the fact there is a general idea of the pool of potential candidates for Biden, some of who have already gone through the Senate confirmation process for a federal judgeship.
As a white man in politics born during the Jim Crow era, Wicker is a beneficiary of preferential treatment for access to institutions and positions of political power and authority. Shuwaski Young,
Wicker never considered that the statewide dominance of white elected officials isn’t due to their inherent value or worth but because Black candidates have been intentionally locked out of statewide office. Mississippi has the largest Black population by percentage and has not elected a Black person statewide since 1890.
Black people have been barred from accessing the traditional pathways that lead to higher office and prestigious judgeships. And when a select few do breakthrough, they often have to work harder and longer than their white colleagues to get even a fraction of the recognition.
Biden’s commitment to nominating a Supreme Court Justice from a pool of highly qualified Black women judges, civil rights lawyers or legal scholars isn’t denigrating the role. It’s a recognition of how the good old boys’ network has continuously overlooked black women for more than two centuries.
Not surprisingly, Wicker was not among the 9 Republicans who supported Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation in 2009. He also did not support the confirmation of Justice Elena Kagan a year later. But Wicker had no qualms supporting the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who pales in comparison to both Sotomayor and Kagan.
Southern secessionists and their descendants are some of the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action. Wicker and his colleagues have benefited from a system that systemically disenfranchised Black voters and candidates, clearing the field for whites only in statewide elected positions, including the Senate seat he currently holds.
While a widely documented Jim Crow-era law was voted down by a majority of Mississippi voters in 2020, there is still a deeply entrenched political system that benefits those who have had access to the halls of power for generations.
If Wicker is worried about affirmative action programs and not the best-qualified person holding a particular position, he should start with some internal self-reflection. The privilege of growing up white in a state that has systemically repressed and excluded Black political and judicial participation
Also, herein lies the problem with conceptions of affirmative action as being about letting “lesser” people get access. White people like Wicker hate the idea of affirmative action programs because they are no longer in power. They have to share and are afraid they may someday be outnumbered.
“They don’t care if they sound hypocritical,” tweeted John Stoehr, founder of The Editorial Board newsletter. “They care about having a reason to vote again Biden’s. If it wasn’t the affirmation action bullshit, it would be some other bullshit. This is what we should say. They don’t care about governing. That is worse than hypocrisy.”
While it’s easy to dismiss Wicker as just being from Mississippi, or another racist white man from the south, the truth is this country’s failure at addressing systemic racial and gender inequality leads people to think it’s ok to assume Black women are left out because they are less qualified.
Northern elites aren’t better than their southern counterparts; they just do better at putting up a pretense of tolerance. Prioritizing diversity doesn’t mean lowering standards but expanding the representation in positions of power. Black women always rise to the occasion.