How to Remember the 'Notorious RBG'Roundup
tags: Supreme Court, gender equality, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy, in so many ways, is fundamentally important to understanding our current national and global age of Black Lives Matter. Indeed, her presence in popular culture rests in large part on the global popularity of hip hop, which represents a defining cultural innovation of post-civil rights America.
Ginsburg and hip hop legend Christopher Wallace -- aka the original "Notorious BIG" -- shared a Brooklyn-born birthright forged in the crucible of a borough famous for producing icons (Jay-Z anyone?) who started out as underdogs.
Shana Knizhik, an NYU law student, gave Justice Ginsburg the moniker "Notorious RBG," popularized through a Tumblr account and a subsequent book co-authored with journalist Irin Carmon. Ginsburg acknowledged that she and Wallace were both born in Brooklyn, but had little else to say about the comparison.
The woman who became the Notorious RBG was a Harvard and Columbia-educated lawyer who, in the parlance of the streets, took no shorts, meaning she suffered no fools gladly. But the same passionately brilliant legal mind that railed against the Supreme Court's callous decision to stop protecting the voting rights of all Americans in the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision also exhibited some blind spots.
On the issue of race, chief among these was her response, later walked back, to NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's kneeling during the national anthem to protest against racial injustice. Ginsburg, in an unscripted moment with Katie Couric in 2016 she came to regret, characterized the protests as "dumb and disrespectful." (She later said her comments had been "inappropriately dismissive.")
Kaepernick, who surely knew of the Notorious RBG's by now well-founded image as a political maverick and trailblazer, publicly admitted to finding her comments "disappointing" but stopped there.
Recalling Ginsburg's harsh initial comments about Kaepernick's peaceful protest against racial injustice -- and reading them through the lens of her pop culture persona as Notorious RBG -- is not a call to cancel her posthumously. It is instead an opportunity for us to acknowledge the often unspoken boundaries of interracial political solidarity and to affirm the necessity for intergenerational and multiracial empathy within, among and between communities and leaders pursuing social justice.
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