Another Racist Lawyer And Mentor

In 2012, at the request of the ABA Journal, Dan Hull and I wrote an article about the importance of mentoring, both as a duty of experienced lawyers to give back and a duty of new lawyers to get up to speed as quickly and effectively as possible for the sake of clients. Despite their having asked for the article, and our having put in the time to write it, the ABA Journal decided not to publish it because they felt our expectations of young lawyers to be good mentees was too hard and might hurt their feelings.

But mentoring has been a very important part of my career, and I’ve mentored many law students and young lawyers over the years. Some have been white. Some black and brown. Some male. Some female. None told me they were of another orientation, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t. With a couple exceptions, it’s proven very fruitful.

Not too long ago, one of my mentees, a black lawyer, sent me a picture of his beautiful family standing in front of his spectacular new house, purchased with the income earned in his very successful law practice. He was damn proud of himself, and I could not have been prouder of him. My advice might have helped, but he did it for himself. He earned it by providing superlative service to his clients. This is why this anon letter to the New York Times Ethicist, Kwame Appiah, is so deeply offensive.

I am a Black woman and I signed up as a mentor for a law-student-mentoring program at my alma mater. I made a request for a Black mentee, but I was paired with a white woman. Now I’m second-guessing participating in the program. Black attorneys make up less than 5 percent of all attorneys and continue to face horrific experiences in law school and in the legal community. This is whom I envisioned myself supporting when I registered for the program as a recent graduate.

I imagined deep conversations about law professors and law-firm culture, and sharing how I’ve learned to navigate them as a Black woman. Not only will these conversations not apply to my mentee the same way, but I can’t help wondering if assisting them will ultimately contribute to my own oppression. There are so many factors in her favor that I don’t really want to help give her even more of a leg up in my free time. On the other hand, I don’t have anything against her, and law school is universally scary during the first year. Should I be thinking about this differently? Is it wrong to bow out? Name Withheld

That someone, anyone but especially someone who’s a lawyer, would make a request for a mentee by race is what we fought against, marched against, argued against and refused for generations in the fight to end racial discrimination. Yet here, a “Black woman” shamelessly requests a mentee by the color of skin. It’s not entirely analogous to requesting your waiter at a restaurant be of a particular race, but it’s not all that different either.

The rationalization is that she possesses the singular ability to help a black law student “face horrific experiences,” which sounds remarkably like a desperate need to vindicate her feelings of victimization by teaching a law student that she’s oppressed, whether the student feels victimized or is thrilled to be going to law school, to join a profession that does so much for others and will have a glorious future ahead of her. It never dawns on this lawyer that instead of teaching a law student how to succeed, her deepest desire is to teach  a mentee to suffer her personal sense of victimization.

But even worse is her fear that “assisting them will ultimately contribute to [her] own oppression.” Is she oppressed by becoming a lawyer? So sad for her. Is she oppressed because she might help a person of another race to succeed? Putting aside the dubious proposition that this lawyer has the ability to help anyone learn to succeed, not even Appiah, the Ethicist, is buying this steaming pile of oppression bullshit, although for the wrong reason.

You say that your prospective mentee “has so many factors in her favor,” and, I trust, this inference is based on her dossier, not simply on her race. But even if she’s already quite advantaged, the idea that helping her will somehow contribute to your own oppression is, I think, implausible. The wisdom you can offer her is scarcely going to affect the relative prospects of Black and white lawyers generally, or your prospects in particular. Indeed, if it makes any difference to the world at all, it may well be a small one toward equity. My impression, as someone who teaches in a law school, is that many white law students today are deeply concerned about racial justice, and the counsel of someone like you could make their concern better informed and more effective.

He’s right that she, narcissism aside, is not the center of the universe, such that her  offering her “wisdom” by mentoring a white law student will prove the end of black people becoming lawyers. But if the best reason Appiah can come up with the assuage her racist guilt is that she can make a white student “better informed and more effective” about racial justice, then he’s blowing smoke.

If Name Withheld’s only issue was that she didn’t believe her experience was being put to its best use because her mentee was white, that would be one thing. Not a good thing, but at least not wholly unreasonable. That she wants to “bow out” because of her mentee’s race, however, is flagrantly racist. As the Ethicist, Appiah’s only ethical response is to tell her to drop out, not because she didn’t get a student of her requisite race, but because no mentee should have to endure a racist as her mentor. And for that matter, she probably shouldn’t be a lawyer either. We don’t need any more racists in this profession.

17 thoughts on “Another Racist Lawyer And Mentor

  1. Dan

    She should be glad that her jurisdiction has not adopted Model Rule 8.4(g). Not that it would ever be enforced against her; discrimination against white people is now perfectly acceptable.

    1. SHG Post author

      The narrative is that “oppressed” people cannot be racist. I reject that narrative. Racism is racism, no matter what race the racist.

  2. Elpey P.

    So much for intersectionality. Another example of how the contemporary hive mind wallows in the idea that race is defining while sex is meaningless and class isn’t even worth mentioning.

  3. Howl

    I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe
    I was not offended
    For I knew I had to rise above it all
    Or drown in my own shit.

  4. Sgt. Schultz

    This is something of a dividing line between old school liberals, for whom equality and a colorblind society was the goal, and woke progressives, for whom the cure to racism against blacks is racism for blacks. You are against racism. This Black lawyer is in favor of what she believes to be good racism.

    In her mind, she may be racist, but she’s the good kind of racism. But then, doesn’t every racist believe theirs is the good kind of racism?

    1. Hal

      100% concur.

      It’s more than just racism, it’s an adherence to the accepted/ endorsed “woke” agenda.

      My sister is as, perhaps more, liberal than our host and is aghast at the insistence by progressives that one be a true believer. She might agree w/ 75-80% of their goals/ agenda, but because she doesn’t agree w/ it 100% she’s seen as some sort of a heretic. Someone like myself who agrees w/ perhaps 20-30% is simply beyond redemption.

      Not long ago, I encountered the Ibram Kendi quote to the effect that “it’s not enough to not be racist, one must be anti-racist” and w/in a short while, on one of the RWNJ sites saw it asserted that, “It’s not enough not to be communist, one must be anti-communist”. Essentially, both are insisting on intolerance as a corner stone of their (the only true) ideology.

      One of the beliefs that has made democracy possible is the notion of a “loyal opposition”. Implicit therein, is the belief that others have as much right to their beliefs/ opinions as one does to one’s own, and that they are no less patriotic for this.

      I fear that we are losing this and that’s no small thing.

      1. Redditlaw

        For that matter, I, a conservative, agree with many of the goals that the progressives purport to seek. Legal equality? Absolutely. Opportunities for those previously denied opportunities? Yes. Social equality? Definitely. An end to racism? You bet.

        Good luck to me ever getting a job at a university or large corporation if I were outright to state what I really believe at the outset. And what do I really believe? See above.

  5. B. McLeod

    She’s a “recent graduate.” The program coordinators probably remember her from when she was in school and felt they should pair her with someone who only needs the level of “help” she can provide.

  6. Redditlaw

    This crap has been going on for a long time. The National Association of Black Social Workers denounced white people adopting black children back in the 1970’s as racial and cultural genocide and succeeded to a limited extent in keeping a number of black children locked in the foster care system for many years in what are now known as “blue states”.

    Some black people have held racist views regarding white people, especially one particular group of white people–the usual one upon which all racists fixate–for a very long time. Most liberals were able to avert their eyes and ignore this phenomenon until the white progressives began seizing control of large institutions and establishing these views as a code on the basis of “allyship” around fifteen years ago. Now, no one can avert their gaze from what is right in front of their nose.

    The anonymous writer needs therapy to address her self-esteem issues and should not be mentoring anyone. Also, the letter reeks of academic-speak. I am skeptical that the anonymous letter writer has any skills or practical insights to offer a new attorney.

    1. Mike V.

      A few years ago, I was in a seminar. The presenter talked about the upcoming generations. His contention was that they were/are being raised as little kings and queens. Catered to constantly and that they grow up to be tyrants. After all, its treason to cross the king or queen; and the penalty is death. Figuratively if not literally.

      There is much truth in what he said.

  7. KeyserSoze

    She is both racist and ignorant. Not a good combination.

    Blacks (whatever that means today) are only 13% of the American population. Not everyone wants to go to law school so 5% may in fact be a high level of representation.

    I would like to see if she has a method to determine the “should be” percentage of black attorneys.

  8. Read History

    It’s not racist for a Black lawyer to seek to help a Black law student, nor for Black people or any other oppressed group to feel a sense of solidarity or kinship. Nor is this related in any way to “progressive” or so-called “woke” ideology – it has been a common feature of Black society, a common sentiment among Black people, for hundreds of years. It has been very often not just a good but a necessary thing, those bonds of solidarity protected Black communities from klansmen, racists, and others seeking harm.

    I do not know your personal history Mr Greenfield, but I’d like you to add more detail yo your claim that you “fought against, marched against, argued against and refused” Jim Crow discrimination. Many people gesture to a fake history of civil rights activism to get credence to their ignorant views today. It’s also a common tactic to claim/pretend that the goal of the civil rights movement- and the Black freedom struggle generally for many generations – was a colorblind atomistic individual capitalism where Black people feel no bond of kinship for other Black people and all forms of suffering by Black people are acceptable as long it’s “the market”
    or “bad decisions” or anything other than a law that explicitly discriminates on the basis of race.

    1. SHG Post author

      The ironic hubris of your chosen handle, “Read History,” isn’t lost on those of us who lived history. Such a shame to see a generation taught lies and too simplistic to grasp their infantile arrogance.

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