White Moms: Never Speak About Your Black Kids Like Amy Coney Barrett

Trump’s Supreme Court nom described her adopted children and it was frightening

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

On the first day of Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate Confirmation hearings to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, she opened up not as a Circuit Court judge but as a mother. Instead of rationalizing her abortion stance or explaining why she feels climate control is more a policy matter than science, she spoke with vivid pride about her and husband Jesse’s seven children.

She began by informing that her oldest, Emma, to which Amy has referred to as “the first apple of our eye,” is a college sophomore who will possibly follow her parents footsteps in law. The judge continued, noting that her second oldest, 16-year-old Vivian, was born in Haiti and adopted by the Barrett’s in 2005. Amy made it a point to punctuate that when Vivian joined the family at 14 months old, she was so weak that doctors said “she may never walk or talk normally.” Today, Vivian is a high school track star, who, according to her esteemed legal guardian, no longer has trouble speaking. Which of Vivian’s abilities is her mother most proud? Apparently, that she “deadlifts as much as the men in our gym.”

Mentioned third was daughter, Tress, also 16 years old. Amy beamed that Tress shares her parents’ love for liberal arts but, moreover, possesses the family’s highest math acumen. Vivian wasn’t the only child the Barretts adopted from Haiti. After the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, they brought home three-year-old John Peter. At the hearing, Amy spoke of John’s personality as “happy-go-lucky.” In fact, she said it was “his signature trait.” Biological son Liam received from his mother adjectives like “smart and kind.” Julia, 10, was said to be pursuing a career as an author.

I watched and listened carefully to this video several times. I didn’t wanna fall victim to my own racial sensitivity. Then I dug a little and stumbled on Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing where she became an official federal judge. And there they were: the same red flags in Amy’s tone I took issue with in the opening statement of her recent hearing. She referred to Vivian as “our miracle” and praised her only as an athlete, while Vivian’s age-twin Tress is “one of the most compassionate and determined” people that her mom knew. It made me wonder about Vivian’s personality. Was she not compassionate like Tress? In which subjects was Vivian strongest? After all, she is a student athlete. When it came to the second adopted child, John Peter, again, there was zero cerebral description. No praise for him being “typically curious” like the younger Liam nor any insight into professional aspirations. We couldn’t even get little JP’s hobby.

The problem here is that Amy’s words, while dressed in maternal affection, did not paint her Black children as whole humans. Sound familiar? Of course, it does. Since first stepping chained foot onto American soil, Blacks in America have fought for the recognition of their humanity. The three-fifths compromise deemed Blacks subhuman (for purely political reasons, mind you) and eventually through lawful mandates “private property.” Not even Emancipation Proclamation author President Lincoln felt Africans were equal — just unfortunate captives who were oppressed by the superior race. So when an American judge who is not only on the extreme side of political conservatism, but a referral of Donald Trump, speaks of her Black children with monolithic tones, the air begins to smell a lot like Dred Scott’s day in court.

That was just the half. We were also informed that when Amy’s husband brought John Peter home to windy Chicago, the toddler was taken aback by the cold weather. Unfortunately, this normal and ostensibly innocent tidbit gave me discomfort. Mainly, because every description Amy has given JP on a federal stage could easily be attached to a chimpanzee. A happy go-lucky chimpanzee. The only Barrett child to receive a more inferior bio than little John was the youngest, eight-year-old Benjamin, who has Down Syndrome.

Understand that my issues with Amy’s sketches of JP were compounded by her publicly relegating her oldest Black child to a handicap turned athlete. For someone who happens to be well-versed in American history to not understand the sensitivity behind terms like “savage” when speaking of African-American boys or “White savior” when referring to Caucasians is one thing. For that person to be as tone deaf while introducing their own children of color is maddening. There’s just too many people collecting Brown and Black babies abroad whilst ignorant to how the world receives and perceives their hue. There’s too much evidence of White folk praising Black’s athleticism over their intellect — from the plantation to the football field. This crescent view of POC is how Lebron James gets told by a White woman to shut up and dribble.

Now before the pitchforks head my way, let me be crystal clear: I am not accusing Amy Coney Barrett of viewing her adopted son as a monkey. Nor am I saying she only sees her darkest daughter’s track & field talents. She has my respect as a mother and samaritan. Adoption is God’s work. In fact, it’s worth noting that if Barrett’s nomination reaps a seat, she becomes the first mother of school-aged children to serve on the Supreme Court. My issue is with Mrs. Barrett’s language. When the words of White people fail to paint Blacks with dimension or as fully developed thinkers — especially next to the fairer-skinned — it leaves room for sharecropping nightmares, Homestead Act exclusion, and mass incarceration ushering in the New Jim Crow. I would love to give Judge Barrett the benefit of the doubt — that the inequality in her maternal praise is rooted in common racial ignorance. I am also painfully aware that American racism lives far deeper than Confederate flags and N-words. Racism is a mental condition and mind state that’s most harmful when subconscious. (Polite Racism wasn’t just an attractive topic for an essay.) Nonetheless, for a potential Supreme Court judge, this is unacceptable––especially in the fourth quarter of a transformative 2020. There’s too much at stake for Black bodies; too much weight on Amy’s name to excuse such an oversight. I pray it’s an oversight.

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Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.

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