Demanding That Ketanji Brown Jackson ‘Show Her Papers’

The Fox News host Tucker Carlson briefly went to a Swiss boarding school before reportedly being kicked out. He went on to graduate from Trinity College. In a 1991 yearbook entry, he described himself as being part of the “Dan White Society,” an apparent allusion to the homophobe who killed San Francisco’s mayor, George Moscone, and supervisor Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, in 1978.

After graduation, The Columbia Journalism Review reported, “Carlson applied to the C.I.A., but his application was denied, so he turned to journalism. ‘You should consider journalism,’ his father told him. ‘They’ll take anybody.’”

That same Tucker Carlson last week demanded that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Black woman who is President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, prove that she is qualified. He demanded that she show her papers.

As Carlson said on Fox News, “It might be time for Joe Biden to let us know what Ketanji Brown Jackson’s LSAT score was. How did she do on the LSATs? … It would seem like Americans in a democracy have a right to know.”

It is outrageous, to be sure. What was Jackson doing in 1991 when Carlson was identifying with the homicidal homophobe? She was studying government at Harvard while being a student organizer for civil rights causes, and she would graduate magna cum laude the following year.

One thing to which successful Black people can attest is that you are sometimes, even often, asked to prove your credentials, to demonstrate that you have earned your way and earned your position, often by far less credentialed questioners.

Donald Trump — whose time at Wharton is shrouded in mystery, from how he was admitted to how good of a student he was — made a name for himself in politics by questioning the legitimacy, qualifications and pedigree of Barack Obama.

Many will recall that Trump became the chief birther, questioning the location of Obama’s birth, and therefore his citizenship. The BBC has pointed out that Trump started to mention his “real doubts” about whether Obama had a U.S. birth certificate in March of 2011.

A month before that, Trump began to question the accuracy and legitimacy of Obama’s academic résumé. Speaking at CPAC in February 2011, Trump said of Obama: “Our current president came out of nowhere, came out of nowhere. In fact, I’ll go a step further: The people that went to school with them, they don’t even know — they never saw him. They don’t know who he is. Crazy.”

Trump also claimed that Obama didn’t write his first book, telling Sean Hannity in 2011: “I heard he had terrible marks, and he ends up in Harvard. He wrote a book that was better than Ernest Hemingway, but the second book was written by an average person. He shouldn’t have written the second book.”

Trump insisted that Bill Ayers, who happens to be white, had to be the author of the first book.

And it didn’t stop there. In 2012, Trump offered to donate $5 million to the charity of Obama’s choosing if Obama would release his college and passport records.

These episodes struck such a nerve because it isn’t only presidents or Supreme Court picks who have to present proof of their credentials. Too many people, Black and of other races, have had to do the same at some point in their lives. It is humiliating and degrading.

It has happened to me several times, and I will share one.

Before I was a columnist, I was an information graphics journalist, a profession that deals with data, sometimes reams of it, to produce maps, charts, diagrams and the like.

The Times was then, and remains, a leader in the field. And as its graphics director, I was in charge of its efforts.

But that field was an overwhelmingly white world. So, for some, my presence was incongruous.

One year I was in Pamplona, Spain, judging the international information graphics awards. The student helpers invited some of the judges out to a bar after dinner. The bar was a cavernous space with an overwhelming amount of flashing and spinning lights.

The students introduced me to some of the locals with my title and the kind of work that I did. No one believed them. I could speak almost no Spanish, but the locals’ noes were as clear as their shaking heads. The students confirmed that the locals didn’t believe I could possibly be who they said I was.

Before the exchange was finished, I found myself pulling out my Times ID, to the astonishment of the locals.

This is not an isolated incident. People the world over carry so much anti-Blackness that Black excellence to them is an assault on their worldview.

They think, “This person, this Black person, can’t possibly be as good as he says, good enough to have earned her station.” They must find a way to attribute it to something else: an unfair advantage, a giving of preference, a bending of the curve.

In the end, all these demands boil down to one thing, ancient and metastatic: racism.

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