Your Place in Fighting Institutional Racism

by Jonathan Melmed on Jul. 28, 2020

Employment Employment  Employment Discrimination 

Summary: Fighting systemic racism is challenging, but lawyers are in a unique position to help.

The U.S. has a long way to go in defeating both institutional and individual racism, including within the criminal justice system and legal community. But white lawyers are in a strong position to listen, learn, and lend much-need support to anti-racism activism.

It takes proactive learning to support Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color and bring about real change in the law and society. Figuring out where to start can feel overwhelming. But there are concrete steps you and every white lawyer can pursue right now to become a better ally.

Step 1: Donate

Donate to national and local non-profits that are actively involved in anti-racist work. You must recognize that it takes financial resources to do the hard work. Many activists aren’t paid for their time and efforts. Their grassroots movements and non-profits struggle to raise money that would help them bring about change in their communities and across the country.

Step 2: Educate yourself

The most important step is to educate yourself on the history of racism, systemic racism, and its impact on Black people and other communities of color. One of the best ways to learn is to listen to Black activists, artists, and leaders on social media. If you don’t have a Twitter or Instagram account—make one. You’ll find resources there that you won’t find on the evening news.

Purchase books by Black authors from Black-owned independent bookstores. This doesn’t mean filling your shelves with only non-fiction works about racism. Support creative works by Black authors, too. Strive to diversify your bookshelf.

Step 3: Don’t ask your Black colleagues to teach you

Your Black colleagues, friends, and other connections continue to face racism in their personal and professional lives daily. It is not their responsibility to educate you or the law firm on how to address institutional racism in the legal community or the country.

There are many resources for you to learn from that don’t put additional weight on their shoulders. Put your research skills to work and find Black voices online and in literature and art.

Step 4: Openly support your Black colleagues

Include your Black coworkers and other people of color in important conversations at work. Actively listen and support their ideas. Take steps to ensure they are receiving the same opportunities as you and other white lawyers. 

Step 5: Connect with local organizations

As you continue to educate yourself, you should get involved. Search out anti-racism organizations, like your local chapter of Black Lives Matter, and ask how you can support their efforts. As a lawyer, you might have access, opportunities, and skills that can benefit the organization.

Step 6: Offer pro bono services

Anti-racism organizations, activists, and Black communities need legal advice and representation more than ever. You don’t have to be a civil rights lawyer to help. These organizations and members of their communities might need help with all sorts of issues, including criminal defense, contracts, housing issues, and fighting sexual harassment in the workplace. You have knowledge and skills that can be put to work for people who typically have less access to counsel.

Individual Growth Can Improve the Law

Changing the legal system requires you to get involved. When you are well-educated on institutional racism, including within the legal field, we can support real change. You can address diversity and racism within your workplaces and areas of law. You can fight discrimination in your local ordinances and state laws, even going so far as to work with legislators to draft reforms.

Law school prepared you to research, learn new subjects, think critically, and, most of all, help others. All of these skills can be used to fight racism and promote equality within the law.


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