Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is Boring Me
Posted by Kristina Agbebiyi
October 12, 2016Pauli Murray
Beginning in August 2016, 49ers Football player Colin Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem as part of a symbolic protest against police brutality and systemic racism in our country. In an interview, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Many people found solidarity with Kaepernick, and soon began to stage their own protests during the national anthem. His movement is sweeping the country, starting dialogue, and also gaining the attention of haters.
One of those haters just so happened to be the second woman in United States history to serve as a Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In a recent interview with Katie Couric, Ginsburg called Kaepernick’s protests “dumb,” “arrogant,” and “stupid.” These opinions are quite perplexing given Ginsburg’s background as a champion for women’s and reproductive rights. Ginsburg has also served as one of the most liberal Supreme Court justices ever, known for being outspoken, socially just and a strong protector of voting rights. Having earned the nickname of “Notorious R.B.G.” Ginsburg appeared to be one of the remaining older feminists who had kept up with the times.
Ginsburg’s nickname is actually quite fitting in my opinion. The ironic play on words (taken from the stage name of popular black rap artist The Notorious B.I.G.) shows just how white feminism works. I’m of the firm belief that most (aka 99%) of white feminist writing and ideas that have gained notoriety have been first said, or said 10 time better, by feminists of color. Even the term intersectionality, coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a black woman, seems to have lost its original meaning–currently used in every white feminist’s 140 character count twitter bio, but is nowhere reflected in their friend circle or politics.
Even the beloved Ginsburg wouldn’t be where she is without the knowledge lent from my personal gender non-conforming hero, Pauli Murray. A black, lesbian, feminist, Howard University Graduate, and author of a book that Thurgood Marshall called “the civil rights Bible for lawyers,” Murray’s name goes virtually unrecognized in feminist circles. Obviously because of her race and gender, but also due to the fact that she possessed a tricky relationship with her gender and sexuality. Her writing also laid the legal groundwork for the landmark case Brown V. the Board of Education.
While Murray’s name may not ring a bell, 1971’s Reed v. Reed ruling might. The historic Reed v. Reed ruled that gender was not legally allowed to exclude women as administrators of their personal estate. This set a legal precedent as it was the first time the Equal Protection Clause was applied to sex. The precedent set by this ruling opened the door for future legislation that addressed equality of gender. Volunteer attorney at the time of the case, Ginsburg wrote the plantiff’s dissent in the case and was offered a new paid position with the American Civil Liberties Union; the rest was history. Pauli Murray’s writing aided Ginsburg’s dissent so much that Ginsburg added Murray as an honorary author of the brief.
When many of my white feminist friends read Ginsburg’s quote on Kaepernick, I can only imagine them letting out an audible gasp. What are they supposed to do now? The last feminist icon that could let them fight the patriarchy without ever acknowledging that the United States court system has been, and will continue to be, undeniably racist despite having women on the Supreme Court bench, has let them down.
It’s as though the more feminism is monetized, mixed with black culture, and printed in pastel, the more white women (Supreme Court justices and not) feel the need to be complacent in their beliefs, radical for simply believing that even though the protests are dumb, “I wouldn’t arrest them for it,” and comfortable stealing from people of color, without building authentic community with them.
In Ginsberg’s own words, “you can disagree, without being disagreeable.” Esteemed Supreme Court justice or not, I completely disagree with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s analysis of Kapernick’s protest and the movement it has sparked. Uninformed, nationalistic, and patronizing, it’s reflective of feminism without the acknowledgement of the intersections of race and class. Plus, by belittling the protests, Ginsburg simultaneously passes off the responsibility that she, and the rest of the legal system, have for the oppression of communities of color. All of this aside, her opinion on the subject is boring! Boring AF! Wow. Famous feminist lacks a consistent racial justice analysis!! We haven’t seen that before!! Come on y’all. Mix it up.
To every woman in law school that aspires to be the next “Notorious R.B.G.,” and to every white feminist that reads this article wondering how I took the time to write a petty piece about their beloved feminist hero, I have this to say: For every Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there is a Pauli Murray. Meaning, there is someone putting in the work for minimal recognition, and they are often a member of the most marginalized groups.
Activists of color came up with the terms our movement uses, we led the intersectional culture you consume, and we even wrote the legal foundation that allows you to move closer towards achieving equality in the eyes of the law.
In case I wasn’t clear enough before: without people that look like me, there would be no you.