Reports from the Promised Land: Part I
I wrote earlier to share the good news that I was finally making my way from the mean streets to a high-rise office building here in the nation’s capital. I expressed my excitement about finally getting a taste of Corporate America working at a fairly large-sized law firm. However, I expressed some reservations. I didn’t know what I would be met with or how I’d be received. I wanted to update you all on my progress and decided to write a series of posts entitled “Reports from the Promised Land.”
I hope to accomplish with these reports a number of things. First, I want to convey to ya’ll my experience in a segment of life that is often idealized for minorities and those on the up-and-up: working in a “cushy” office job. Second, I want to examine the racial dynamic of the environment and report back. In this, I’d like to convey my perspectives and generally relate my feelings about it. This is the first report, with my initial reactions.
1. Diversity . . . or the lack thereof.
I’ll begin by saying that I am the “Diversity Extern” here at the office. And as I was guided around the office the first day meeting partners and associates, I can see why they needed to . . . increase minority representation. The Black people in this office of about 50 lawyers included ONE of the lawyers and most of the legal secretaries. African Americans are wildly underrepresented in law schools, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I am still struck. It seems America is an odd paradox in that a Black man is the President of the country, yet in my industry, and many others in Corporate America, Black folk are few and very far between.
The upside of all this: The Black associate I met was female, young, and quite honestly finer that frog hair. Think Keri Washington in “Scandal” and you’re getting close.
2. Communication Styles
We here at 40 Acres have written time and again about the differing communication styles between ethnicities. We’ve told you about how the way Black people speak is actually a recognized dialect of English. It is not merely slang, it is an entire system of conjugations, omissions, and phonology that is distinct to Black America with regional variations of course. African American Vernacular English (“AAVE”) This difference was never more evident than when I sat in on a few client interviews. The clients were homeless Black men. My firm works with a great program called the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. Providing free legal aid to the unhoused and underhoused resident of the District, this organization is wonderful. Check it out, law students out there. Find something analogous in your city.
So, to my point though, the two White, male attorneys who were handling these clients often had a fair amount of trouble understanding the clients. I, however, could easily interpret these fellas. And when it came to the attorneys explaining sometimes dense, legal standards to these brothas, the chasm in communication styles was even more evident. I often felt myself on the verge of acting as translator, putting what the associates were describing in language these clients could understand. I resisted though, because I was there in more of a learning capacity, but the feeling was present nonetheless.
This shows that there is all the more need for people of Color in the legal profession. Those who know entirely other languages than English, and those who know unique, minority community-based variants of English.
3. The White Collar Lifestyle
Man, I could get used to the life of coming in at 10 and leaving at 5. Lunches on the firm: Check. Free coffee and tea just around the corner: Check. However, my first day I often found myself not used to the kind of freedom that this lifestyle affords one. I will here note that I’ve only ever worked shitty and not-so-shitty part-time jobs throughout high school and college. In those, you have to clock-in and clock-out. Your break is 30 minutes and you have to go when you are scheduled to go. Not so in the white collar world. You go when you want. No one cares how long you take, as long as you are getting your projects done.
I DID NOT KNOW THIS.
I honestly felt like Morgan Freeman in “The Shawshank Redemption” initially. You know the scenes when he finally leaves the prison, and is supposed to adjust to the world he’s been away from for most of his life. He’s asking permission to use the bathroom. He’s asking to do basic things that any person in his position is free to do. Yeah. That was me. Hell, I did everything shy of saying “Boss” at the end of every sentence when I asked a question. ‘Twas like the day after emancipation and all of a sudden I had this Freedom but was afraid I would do something wrong with it.
All of these things go to show you that “The Promised Land” has its benefits and drawbacks. Thus far, it’s been more good than bad by far. I’ll keep you nice poeple in the loop.