“I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell both the judge and the opposing counsel that they upheld systems of racial hierarchy. I did not. Instead, I shouted words on paper. These words are my screams.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve been this emotionally affected by a peer-reviewed publication. Leah, please imagine this essay as me sitting next to you, hearing you, believing you, offering you my deepest compassion and a promise to do right.
I’m talking about “Professionalism as a Racial Construct,” by Leah Goodridge, published in the UCLA Law Review on March 22, 2022. This is a brilliant and painful account of being Black in the legal field, using the Critical Race Theory method of counter-storytelling to illustrate legal concepts and bring truth to light. I think the best way to do this piece justice is just to quote the things that really struck me, and then let you have the feelings, too. Let’s start with the opening sentence.
“This Essay examines professionalism as a tool to subjugate people of color in the legal field.”
Yes, it’s a tool with a purpose. This pushes “professionalism” beyond the notion of a norm to something that is actively harming people regularly and severely. And it does its business through three avenues:
“Professionalism was based on the notion that one withstood microaggressions with grace and lightheartedness. The higher the threshold one had to tolerate bias, the more polished the attorney or paralegal appeared.”
- Who is labeled as “sensitive” and who is not?
- Whose feelings are prioritized and valued and whose are not?
- How are the reactions of humor and forgiveness sometimes spurred by a desire for survival?
“Selective offense is the normalization of racist, misogynistic, ableist or otherwise discriminatory behavior while the denunciation of said behavior is seen as disruptive.”
Selective offense in four stages:
- Minimize and fail to admonish the behavior
- Call the behavior charming or innocent
- Accept the harmful behavior
- Depict challenges to the behavior as a personal character attack
“Whiteness becomes the norm and lens which legal advocates look through.”
- Racial and social justice are ancillary
- Legal practice functions in a colorblind way
All of these serve to protect white power through dehumanization, blame shifting, and erasure of the Black experience. As a white person, I can understand this intellectually and I can even digest how I both benefit from and contribute to these patterns.
But what if I really sit with the experience of being dehumanized, blamed and erased? What if I truly hear the screams? How can I let that guide me toward acknowledgement, repair and healing, in myself and others, every minute, every day, every year, for the rest of my life?