Law in Contemporary Society

The Advice

Last semester I went to career services to get some last minute pointers on how to make my resume “stand out.” The woman gleaned over my resume in silence, and then suggested we revise my “Interests” section. At the time I had “Nollywood films, gender and ethnic studies, African history, and Soukous and Highlife Music,” listed as my interests. She told me to get rid of Nollywood films because she said: “you only want things on your resume that show skill.” I said okay. She asked me what Soukous and Highlife music is, I explained to her that they are genres of music that originate from Central and West Africa and she said interesting, maybe we should call that “world music.” I said okay. After further probing me about my interests and past experiences, my “Interests” section became “Volleyball (competed nationally), classical music (studied the violin), and international travel.”

At the end of the meeting, I thanked the woman and went home. Though we revised my resume quite extensively and it reveals an aspect of me, I remember feeling annoyed and not really helped. Or at least not in the way that I felt best represented me. I felt as though she was portraying me to be something that I was not. And that the resume changes and suggestions about how to dress and speak during an interview was an effort to make me more “neutral” and appealing to majority-populated law firms.

The Problem: Making Sense of It

Looking back on the situation, I realize the woman’s intentions were not ill willed and she genuinely thought that she was doing me a favor by helping my resume “pass.” Although, I felt uneasy about it, I followed her advice. Growing up as a Nigerian-American woman and attending majority-populated institutions for undergraduate, graduate and now professional school I have gotten the sense that in order to be successful, fit in, get what I want, etc…I can not be “too Black.” I have to “play the game,” which translates into not being “black centered”—being neutral. Why? Because the idea is that being “too black” is equated with trouble and the idea that potential employers may not want to hire me if they perceive me to be a potential problem in their office. So I have come to believe that it is in my best interest to appear “neutral” in order to “pass.” And because I had this apprehension in the back of my mind, I allowed the woman in career services, representative of Columbia generally, to dictate whom I should be, where I should work and what I should aspire to. In the process, I began to undermine my values and individuality. I began to lose sense of who I am.

Who I am

Before law school I was unapologetic about who I am, where I come from, and my aspirations. I followed my passions and pursued my interests. In high school I refused to take random Advanced Placement courses simply because they would look good on college applications. Instead I took classes that allowed me to explore my interests in African history and civil wars. In college I pursued International Relations as a major and took Igbo language courses so that I could learn more about my heritage and language. I also seized the opportunity to write research papers on development and ethnic conflict in Nigeria. It was through my exploration of Nigeria and Africa, generally, that I learned about the many difficulties the continent is having and that I wanted to help make change there. It was also how I decided that attending law school will be the best way for me to impact change—to make something happen with my words.

Make Things Happen With My Words

My passion is Africa. I love watching Nollywood films, learning about gender and ethnic strife in developing countries, and listening to Soukous and Highlife music because it reminds me of home. It is who I am and why I chose to come to law school.

I am here to gain the training and credentials necessary to gain access to do what I want to do—to learn to make things happen with my words. At this point in my academic career, I hope that by simply discussing poverty, war, sickness, and crime in Africa that I can 1) keep myself informed and 2) interest others in becoming more involved. So I guess my underlying intentions in talking about Africa, is an attempt to make things happen with my words.

But how can I make things happen with my words, when I am hesitant to be who I am? How can I represent Africa when I am struggling to represent myself? I am certain that being a Nigerian-American woman in a majority-populated school and heading toward a majority-populated profession has had some role in me feeling that I should “soften” my interests. At the same time, I realize that inherent in making things happen with my words is disruption, because after all the point it to change the status quo.

The Reality

At the end of the day I cannot continue to allow the ideas of others to shape my life. If I truly want to make the change that I proclaim, then I have to pull myself out of this rut that I created. There is nothing about this school, my professors, or peers that should make me undermine who I am. And realistically, no matter how much I change my resume or “soften” my interests the reality is I will never appear to be completely like the majority, because I am not that. I can’t change it, and I don’t want to.

  • I think this is an effective and valuable essay. Thanks for writing it.


Webs Webs

r6 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:11:54 - IanSullivan
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