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Locs Interlocked with Legislation: The Significance of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Locs

Photographs by Anna Moneymaker and Sarahbeth Maney

Donning vibrant power suits in tones of red and indigo, Supreme Court Justice nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, took over the internet with discussions about her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings. If confirmed, Ketanji Brown Jackson would be one of the most qualified Supreme Court Justices across the board as a graduate of Harvard law School, editor of the Harvard Law Review, public defender, Supreme Court Clerk, Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Moreover, Ketanji Brown Jackson would be the first Black female Supreme Court Justice within U.S. history. Beyond her grand accolades of educational and professional achievements, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation would bring about personal experiences of what it means to be a minority and woman in the United States, ultimately conferring important insights about these communities in correlation to legal theories and policies (Busette). Most notably, this is represented in Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Sisterlocks—trademark locs created by JoAnne Cornwell—where the hairdo consists of thin locks to mimic unlocked hair strands. Appearing in front of the entire Senate Judiciary Hearing Committee, various media outlets, and others, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s locs symbolizes the progressive shattering of professional demands over following typical norms about dress and grooming as well as inclusive legislative history.

For centuries now, Black people’s hair signify elements of both oppression and liberation. Ketanji Brown Jackson’s locs represent this legacy starting from “British colonists’ distaste for matted hair of Kenyan warriors” to the popularization of the hairdo by celebrities such as Bob Marley in the 1970s to Whoopi Goldberg and to Zendaya nowadays (Autry). The popularization and acceptance of these hairstyles represent more than elements of stylistic dressing in conjunction with one’s outfits and accessories. Rather, they serve as a projection of one’s identity, life experience, and perspective. This is increasingly pertinent as conversations about professionalism and “appropriate appearance” have been the center of many conflicts over Black hairstyles. In regards to legal discrimination, the United States District Court in the Southern Division of Alabama ended up ruling that there was no discrimination within the employment conditions in the 2014 case of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions. Within this case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on behalf of Chastity C. Jones whose employment to Catastrophe Management Solutions was contingent on the basis that she removed her locs. The court ruled that this could not qualify as discrimination on race as hair is not an immutable trait for her to comply with these employment conditions. However, this illuminates an intrinsic issue for many Black individuals as their cultures and hairstyles are inherently linked together for their personal expression and protection of their hair.

Therefore, when Ketanji Brown Jackson appeared before the Senate Judiciary Hearing Committee in locs, she furthered notions of diversity, equity, and inclusion by emphasizing certain elements of her fashion and style. This was even more significant as the CROWN Act—Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair—just recently passed on the federal level on March 18th, 2022, days before Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings. The CROWN Act serves to prohibit “racial and national origin discrimination because of longstanding racial and national origin biases and stereotypes associated with hair texture and style” where “people of African descent are deprived of educational and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles in which ahir is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, or Afros” (H.R.2116). By showcasing her locs, Ketanji Brown Jackson interlocks her stylistic choices along with her professional history to demonstrate the identities and cultural experiences she would bring to the United States Supreme Court as the first Black woman on the Court.

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