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 the paralegals, interns, members of staff, and all the lawyers, who took their lunch at the same time but rarely sat with the rest of us; I realized that I was not just the only black male, but the only person of any color at this firm.

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

I also knew 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 this 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 right either. He was a kid I went to high school with, my senior year we had a habit of bumping into each other when skipping class.

He shot someone a year after I graduated; drug deal gone bad. About three years later he finally got his trial; 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 would’ve been twenty-five at the time of the trial had his life not been tragically cut short. They patted the court on the back for bringing the villain who murdered him to justice. That pissed me off.

There was (or should I say is, because this story replays itself all too often) nothing just about that 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 it was, one man dead and one whose life was effectively over. And this was 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 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 can’t say for a fact what the national background of 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 learned from each other and gained new perspective.

What is interesting to me now, about a year and a half removed from that day, is what goes into that tendency to make one open up a line a communication with another or not. My first impulse was to rationalize away the hypothetical because it was easy to say that such a discussion wouldn’t happen at work. Getting past that, I realized that identity politics were in play. Feeling like an outsider assumes that there is an “other” who is the insider, and by getting caught up in that I created my own us/them dynamic. I didn’t speak to my coworkers about the paper, therefore I was making assumptions about their reactions.

As I considered further revisions to this story, I realized I had a chance to further myself, by pressing myself to think of why I resorted to assigning those roles of insider/outsider at all.

I had just read a story that I identified as paradigmatic of black suffering in America. It was a lot to process. Viewing that room in black and white was the quickest (albeit laziest) way to explain how I felt, which was alone. I can admit now that feeling alone was more my own idiosyncratic reaction to being hurt/stressed than an honest estimation of my situation.

It wasn’t immediately obvious how this personal exploration related to my career as a lawyer. Yet as we discussed managing our personal states, I saw how these moments of introspection, were integral.

I’m not really an outsider, my skin makes me stand out in this field but thanks to my education I have a chance to make a difference from the inside that Kash and many who look like us don’t. Knowing what makes me tick, why it does, and what my natural reaction to it will be allows me to control those impulses, and reach my potential as a person and lawyer.


Webs Webs

r4 - 15 Jun 2018 - 11:25:16 - DanielImahiyerobo
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