This is Your Problem

Diversity and anti-racism

This is Your Problem

A lack of diversity and anti-racism work upholds structures of power that favour racial discrimination. Every level of court has settled on this understanding of racism. Racial discrimination is personally painful as it tears at those that are continually shut out of realizing their full potential as lawyers, and these negative effects trickle down for generations.

What’s in it for you to do this challenging work? You get to live in an equal and just society. This is a tangible personal gain. And if only dollars drive your decisions, research has shown that having an inclusive workforce with equal opportunity increases profits and productivity. Further, clients want to be served by diverse counsel. Have a look at Coca-Cola’s demand that its outside counsel meet diversity targets or risk losing lucrative contracts. Their frustration, which is widely shared, is that diversity in the law has progressed glacially at best.

And when we do see a commitment to diversity, it typically consists of solely increasing the numbers of a certain racialized group. This approach fails to consider what it means for members of racialized groups to enter a workplace that has not confronted racism and oppression in its programs, policies, practices, and culture — structural racism. Diversity programming that is divorced from anti-racism work is harmful and leads to the personal degradation of people that already suffer too much.

Anti-racism requires law firms, governments, law schools, and the judiciary to turn the mirror on themselves to scrutinize and dismantle racist systems that are deeply and historically embedded.

Anti-racism work requires the creation of a welcoming workplace where diversity can flourish, and uncomfortable conversations can be had with cultural humility. The benefits of diversity and inclusion are not unlocked by the mere presence of difference around the table, but by a culture that allows difference to infuse structural and programmatic decisions.

When there is no process for racialized communities to speak-up with safety and see tangible change, the options are to retreat or go public. Cancel and call-out culture are in part a result of the rising frustration with the long tradition of silencing racialized people.

If you believe that your organization does not need to engage in anti-racism work, then your organization needs it the most. Every single institution is affected by structural racism. In The Atlantic article Denial is the Heartbeat of America, Ibram X. Kendi writes, “Sexism, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism — instead of being seen as systemic and pervasive — are dismissed as being carried out only by those individual red hats and rednecks. Thus, the marginal response to the carnage.”

It is racism that has seen Canada deprived of an Indigenous jurist on the Supreme Court of Canada. It is not a merit deficit that has seen Indigenous peoples shut out of the highest levels of power. It is structural racism cloaked in the insidious belief that qualified candidates are simply nowhere to be found.

If you still believe cultivating diversity and being anti-racist is not something you or your workplace needs to engage in, I leave you with the words of Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella, “Indifference is injustice’s incubator; it’s not just what you stand for, it’s what you stand up for; and we can never forget how the world looks to those who are vulnerable.” Regardless of whether we recognize it, we are all either supporting or dismantling structural racism.