A distinguished lawyer of my acquaintance (though we have not spoken in decades) just posted what follows in a professional forum.
What is it? How did the lawyer come to believe that it should be posted? What would you say in response as a friend? A colleague? A critic?
I am a racist.
I grew up in a small farming town that had less racial diversity than The Villages does today. My only first-hand exposure to people of color was in the summers, when migrant workers would come to do backbreaking work in the fields 60 hours a week. I was taught they were lazy Mexicans. I am the same age as Opie, Dennis the Menace and the Beaver. They were my windows to the world. Their childhood lives, like mine, were never complicated by race.
I was taught the Euro-centric version of history. Columbus discovered America. That the Indians were savages was routinely reinforced in the movies. The only thing I learned about the Middle East as a child came from reading The Arabian Nights and seeing Lawrence of Arabia. In my 20 years of formal education, I’ve had two teachers who were people of color. One taught volleyball.
I was into my adulthood when I learned that cabs don’t stop for Black men, that realtors don’t show houses in certain neighborhoods to minorities, and that banks had/have discriminatory lending policies against women and minorities. I was in my 60s when I first knew of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which I learned from a TV show.
Even though I began everyday of elementary school reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – with liberty and justice for all – I’ve routinely witnessed prejudice, if not racism, as part of the legal profession. The law school admissions process is built on biased criteria. The bar exam is racist, hiring practices of and advancement within the largest law firms reflect the male whiteness of their corporate clients. High filing fees have resulted in a user-pay system to access the courts, precluding a higher percentage of minorities from seeking justice.
And I’ve bought into this systemic racism. I don’t think of myself as an evil racist, but rather one who has done too little to advance equity. I am challenged to be an anti-racist. But, if the first step is recognizing that I have a problem, I’m there.