Once again, we have seen another Black life brutally taken by police violence. Once again, we demand justice, beginning with systemic change to stop the centuries of institutionalized, legal oppression of Black communities. And once again, we are forced to remind the world that Black Lives Matter.
We four women of color— three Black women and a Brown woman— started FirstGenJD to uplift marginalized voices in the legal community in the hopes of creating a more equitable legal system. Today we stand in solidarity with those who are marching in the streets for justice, also demanding a more equitable legal system. And we, too, raise our voices to declare: Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter. In this moment, everyone with a platform must choose either to use it for the liberation of Black people or to be complicit in their oppression. We are using this blog to speak up. When we created FirstGen JD, we wanted it to be a resource for students who were hoping to become the first lawyer in their families. But we are also aware that it is not an accident that Black law students are overrepresented in this demographic. Black people have been systemically excluded from this and other “elite” professions for the entirety of this country’s history. This exclusion is only one way that our institutions have oppressed us. This is not any truer today than it was a month ago— but the numerous murders of Black people in the news recently has made it impossible to be passive about the need for change. As Black law students, recent graduates, or lawyers we often bear the burden of explaining our lived experience to others in the profession who would rather pretend that diversity programs are enough. But the time has come for all of us to take a stand against racism in the law, law schools, law firms, and every corner of the legal institution. Black people are tired of cycling through mourning, educating, advocating, and healing on our own. It is time for our non-Black peers to take up the mantle whether we are in the room or not. Conversations with your own family, friends, and co-workers will go further than our voices can. You must speak up because you understand that your own freedom is entangled with ours. Until lawyers of all backgrounds join the fight against white supremacy, our beloved profession will continue to perpetuate it. The time for action is now.
I speak with complete candor and an angry but heavy heart as I write this, and in order to raise awareness and truly voice my opinion, I must state some truths which I am sure most of us are familiar with by now. Black people have suffered from systemic racism, police brutality and terrorism via oppressive tactics and policies for over 400 years in this country. Racism is learned and is not unique to just this country. Racism does not distinguish between high or low economic status or education level: if you have the requisite ‘skin color,’ you are bound to experience it and if not, you can be oblivious to it.
Black people are consistently met with a lack of equal opportunities in almost every aspect of their lives; inequality is seen in their ability to obtain an education, a job, healthcare, or a home to say the least. Structures named after racists leaders and monuments honoring slave traders are normalized and go unnoticed to many in this country. At least now some are finally ready to acknowledge America’s bitter history, all these years later. I wonder how many—as in the actual number— black men and women lost their lives to such hate, bigotry and cruelty. You ever thought about that?
Persisting to achieve justice for George Floyd is not new to this nation, we only echo our past brothers and sisters in a fight for equality and justice. Before George Floyd there was Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many, many more. In 2015 alone, police killed over 104 unarmed black people. (See here.) Black lives lost to police brutality did not start with George Floyd, but it can end with him. The senseless killing of George Floyd mobilized humanity’s conscious around the world to protest the injustice being done against black people. To end this systemic oppression and inequality, we must stop the slaying of innocent black Americans by overhauling the system with meaningful legislation and actions. Because let me be clear, police violence against black people is unacceptable in any shape and form. When an officer uses a prohibited restraining method for over 8 minutes ending a black man’s life in broad daylight, and with no fear of repercussions, change becomes indispensable.
We must do what we can to raise awareness as well as take actions toward holding wrongdoers accountable. Lending a helping hand can begin with educating yourself on why what is happening today is happening. And of course, you can take to the streets in protest or donate to reputable entities, but another way is to read and understand the black struggle. We need our perceptions to comprehend the black reality lived by black people each day. Three books I recommend are The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander; How Not to Get Shot: And Other Advice from White People by D. L. Hughley and Doug Moe; and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters. The dehumanizing of black lives must end.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbrey, and so many others made me realize that I spent every day of my life fighting to prove that my life is worth it. I stifled my words, my personality, and my appearance to try to show to the world that black people matter. But my actions didn’t matter; systemic racism made me feel that fighting for equality was my burden to carry and not a burden of everyone else. Systemic racism is a problem for all, and it can only be solved by all. You are either for systemic racism or against it; there is no “neutral” side.
ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Black people are not responsible for facilitating change in this country. It is everyone’s responsibility to work towards a better tomorrow and to educate themselves on the deep-rooted issues of systemic racism. Non-Black people must take the time to listen to Black Voices, and uplift them. It is up to Non-Blacks to use their privilege and the spaces it allows them to enter, to educate others, and fight against racism. Failing to do so only helps the oppressors.
BLACK BIRTHDAYS MATTER.
This blog was made to help first generation law students navigate through law school and to, hopefully, prepare them for various scenarios. In law school, Black students are severely underrepresented and can be expected to speak on all Black issues, Black law students can be overlooked for recognition or made into a token, and Black students may not receive the proper respect from their professors and peers. Being Black is mentally and physically taxing; and non-Black students must speak up against the racism in their school, or they are on the side of racism.
BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.
There are many ways to fight systemic racism in our country, and Google is a wonderful resource. First, I implore you to educate yourself on systemic racism. The New York Times bestsellers for the week of June 21 lists a few wonderful books to read, and NPR has this list of books, films, and podcasts to start with. While educating yourself, volunteer your time at a protest, make donations, and do something that opposes racism.
I’m not Black. It means I have privilege. It means my privilege cocoons me from the trauma anti-Blackness inflicts on too many of my colleagues. And it means, right now, I must use my privilege for justice— must listen and educate myself, must mobilize for my Black sisters and brothers, and, most importantly, must call out my own communities for replicating oppression.
So I’m calling on you all, my first generation law student community, to do better. To show up. To stand between Black folks and those that would harm them.
And let’s first recognize that a disproportionate number of Black law students are first gen; we’re not mutually exclusive. More than that, Black first gen law students have, in many ways, laid the path we tread on. If not for Black folks’ advocacy, many of us wouldn’t be law students. The Civil Rights Movement opened the door for our families to immigrate here, inspired and pioneered the strategies used by the women’s rights and gay rights movements that let us into the profession, and demanded the economic justice and worker safety that shelter us.
Now it’s our turn to show up. We must listen to Black voices and educate ourselves (here, here, here, and here might be places to start). We must protest if we can (and be legal observers); and, if we can’t, we need to act like the lawyers-in-training we are (e.g., donate to bail funds, advocacy orgs, and legal defense funds; represent arrested protesters; and staff hotlines). And we must demand our communities— our Muslim, Jewish, Latino, South Asian, immigrant, LGBTQIA, and every other community— speak up for justice. We cannot silently watch another Black life be brutalized. We cannot ignore injustice and our roles in it. We cannot be complicit.
Black Lives Matter.