Qhaurium Douglas, a lawyer and consultant in Oklahoma City, said she gave a categorical “no” when a colleague asked her to lead an educational workshop on the Black Lives Matter protests. She said she had seen other employees at her firm post articles on Twitter about the criminal records of police brutality victims. “As if that was a justification for a death sentence,” Ms. Douglas said.
She understood that her co-workers were uninformed, but she said she suspected they didn’t want to learn. “The willful ignorance was blatant,” she said.
Further, she worried that the conversation would devolve into a political debate, which she was not emotionally prepared to handle. “I didn’t want to contribute to that me vs. you dynamic,” she said. “Black Lives Matter is not a statement for you to disagree with or feel bad about or have to defend.”
Advocate or adversary
Like Ms. Jean, Mr. Dates was approached on LinkedIn to give a talk about diversity and inclusion despite having no training in the field. The request came from a professional organization for in-house counsels, who had seen a post he’d written about systemic racism. He gave a lot of thought about whether to accept, and ultimately said yes.
But he decided to approach the presentation as a litigator. “In many ways, I was freer to make points that a diversity and inclusion professional cannot make,” he said. “It’s not their job to ostracize people but to bring people to the table.” Mr. Dates said he had a different objective: to kick out the table’s legs.
He approached the group as if he were building a legal case before a jury. Brick by brick, he said, he led them to the conclusion that American law firms are bastions for segregation and would remain so until more Black lawyers became capital partners. He wasn’t subtle; he named the hypothetical law firm in his talk Jim and Crow LLP. “I got a lot of surprised looks. A lot of stunned faces,” he said. But he said he believed his argument left an impression.
Mr. Dates said that diversity and inclusion professionals play an important role. His law firm is unusual in that one of its partners is an expert in the field. Her encouragement, he said, is why he decided to join a new committee addressing equity and inclusion at the firm.
“It’s uncomfortable to have these difficult conversations when you have not done the hard work of building relationships with the people you want to talk to,” he said. “But so many firms leave their Black lawyers in utter isolation to the point that it’s embarrassing for them to reach out to them for their own self- interested purposes.”
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