Law in Contemporary Society
I’ve been the only black man in the room many times before. Yet, there are few times I can remember feeling so uncomfortable in that position as on this day.

As I looked up from the story I was reading in the local metro newspaper, I scanned the break room. Looking at all the paralegals, interns and members of staff sitting together, and all the lawyers, who took their lunch at the same time but rarely (for some never) sat with the rest of the staff, I realized that I was not just the only black male, but the only person of any color at all at this firm. Probably the only one whose family hadn’t been in this country for three or more generations.

I knew this would be the case though. I knew what I was signing up for when I interviewed and the leading partner showed me a painting of Boston, pre-skyline, commissioned by his great great something, proudly hanging in the hallway of his firm. I knew that I’d be doing defense work for companies entangled in product liability and toxic torts lawsuits. I knew that meant combing through thousands of pages of medical records belonging to elderly citizens, suffering from lung cancer caused by exposure to the asbestos they dealt with while working in the factories and construction sites owned by the companies I now defended.

I also knew when I interviewed that I had already signed a lease for an apartment, with only enough money to cover the first month, which was already ending. Finally, I knew that being a cog in the wheel meant that it doesn’t matter who does the job, the job will get done. Knowing all this had allowed me to come to terms with my role for the first nine months or so.

The article I read in the metro that day was not the beginning of me no longer being able to ignore with how I felt about my job, but it did accelerate the process. No matter what I thought I knew, some things hit in a deeper place than rationale can reach.

It wasn’t the headline story, but the article I read that day caught my eye because I recognized the man it was about. It feels weird to call him a friend now, but an acquaintance isn’t the right word either. He was a kid I went to high school with, my senior year we had a weird habit of bumping into each other when we’d skip class.

He shot someone a year after I graduated; drug deal gone bad. About three and a half years later he finally got his trial, and I just happened to pick up the next day’s paper. Curse my love for Sudoku.

The sentence, life in prison, not surprising. How the paper portrayed the event was also not surprising, but it was surprisingly upsetting. They mourned the loss of a man who was trying to get his life together, and would have been twenty-five at the time of the trial if his life had not been tragically cut short. They gave a pat on the back to the court for bringing the villain who had murdered him to justice. That pissed me off.

There was (or should I say is, because this story replays itself too often) nothing just about this justice. The man who was murdered would have been twenty-five but Kash (my friend’s all too unoriginal nickname seems fitting for his all too unoriginal situation. Maybe you know a Kash) was twenty-two. Dead or in Jail, we’ve all heard the expression, and there you have it, one man dead and one whose life is effectively over. And this is a good day on the job.

I get it, you do the crime you do the time, and Kash was no angel. But looking up from the metro that day, looking at my co-workers and realizing that some of them had probably read the same story, I knew (felt?) I was the only one there who read it the way I read it.


I don’t really know that though. I never conversed with any of my co-workers about what I read in the paper that day. Furthermore, I have to recognize that I can’t say for a fact what the socioeconomic or national background of almost anyone in that room was. Had my co-workers and I engaged in that exchange of ideas who knows how our differences/sameness would have manifested. We may have missed a chance to learn from each other and gain new perspective.

What is interesting to me now, about a year and a half removed from that day, is more so what goes into that tendency to make one likely to open up a line a communication with another or not. I think the first impulse is to rationalize away the hypothetical because it’s easy to say that such a discussion just wouldn’t happen in the professional environment. Getting past that though, I realize the identity politics that were in play. Feeling like an outsider assumes that there is an “other” who is the insider, by getting caught up in that line of thinking I created my own us/them dynamic. Despite the matter of fact manner that I described my co-workers before, considering that I didn’t actually know the ancestral background of most people in the room that description was by definition one I made up.

I think the ways that identity politics play into decision making is something worth watching out for. Not just for me, or for the people who see themselves as outsiders but for all of us.


Webs Webs

r3 - 27 Apr 2018 - 04:40:55 - DanielImahiyerobo
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