Law Schools, Minority Issues, Racism

Overcoming Stereotypes, One Study Room At A Time

The most racist thing that happened to me in Biglaw occurred during one of my callbacks. I was being led from one partner’s office to another partner’s office by the recruiting lady at a Biglaw firm (which I won’t name). The partner who was supposed to interview me next was delayed, and so the recruiting lady and I were loitering outside his office for a second. While I’m standing there, another old white partner comes out of his office waving an inter-office mail envelope in my face. He barks, “Where have you been all day? Get this up to [some floor].” I’m in a suit, by the way. The recruiting lady is mortified, and she stammers something like, “This is Elie… he’s interviewing with us today… from HARVARD.” Without a word of apology, the partner grunts “okay,” and then shuffles back into his office, leaving the door open so I guess he could yell at the real mail guy, whenever he appeared.

Needless to say, I didn’t accept my offer with that firm.

These kinds of things happen to lawyers of color all the time. For the first year at the firm I did go to, I eschewed the “business casual” dress code and wore a full suit everyday. I just didn’t want to be mistaken for the mail guy, and was still young and stupid enough to believe that there was some kind of personal choice I could adopt that would make prejudiced white people treat me fairly.

But there’s not really anything you can do to disabuse people of their racist stereotypes. All you can do is keep on doing your thing, as this one California law student is learning…

Tipsters sent in this Facebook status from a Hispanic law student at the UC Hastings College of Law. The status speaks for itself:

Hindsight is 20/20. Clearly the right answer here would have been to say “yes, GTFO,” sat down and studied, and then post a sign saying “I stole your room, bitches,” preferably in Spanish.

We reached out to UC Hastings Dean Frank Wu. He said the law school is doing what it can to address the situation:

I know exactly what it’s like to walk into a room and have someone mistake your identity in the most offensive manner. UC Hastings takes diversity and inclusion very seriously. We strive to do everything we can to create a welcoming environment for everyone, and have been a leader in legal education since the LEOP program was developed four decades ago. We are investigating this allegation, and will do everything that is appropriate and effective to address the situation. Before we do anything else, we need to get to the bottom of the matter. I have not received any official report related to these allegations, but personally invite the student who has raised these concerns to contact me directly. I am also reaching out to the La Raza student leaders.

I’m not really sure what a law school administration can do in this situation. I don’t get the impression that this kid feels unwelcomed by Hastings, he’s just annoyed with some idiots in his class. Again, I think it’s just one of those situations that minority students have to deal with.

In fact, one of the more annoying things about being a minority is that it’s on the minority to think and wrestle with how to “respond” to other people’s racism. The students who assumed that he was cleaning staff — and those students could be of any race — are free to blissfully bounce around in their ignorance, like this is just a big “whoops.” It’s the kid who was stereotyped who must analyze how he responded, how he could have responded, and what this interaction says about his relationship with his classmates and his future profession. I’ll tell you what the Hispanic kid wasn’t able to do after this: find a different room and sit down and study with a clear head like any white student who needed a back-up study room. I don’t know how much time he spent being annoyed by this, hopefully it wasn’t long, but it was clearly greater than 0. And that time, that X amount of time, is the minority tax that students of color have to pay because other people are assholes.

What could he have done differently? Nothing. In real time, he just has to sit there and take it. Going forward, all he can do is deal with it, overcome it, and hopefully do so well in school and life that one day he can hire these fools as janitors.

(hidden for your protection)

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