One summer day, my brother-in-law, Vince, said: “That’s why I would never hire a black lawyer. I know that you like to support black people, Angela. See what happened, though? I’m telling you: Sometimes it’s better to deal with other people”. The thing is, my brother in law is a proud black man. Moreover, he is a proponent of the positive progression and cooperation amongst our community. He is by no means a “self-hating negro”.
To be fair, he may have been responding somewhat viscerally to my earlier description of an interaction with a former mentor who had been less than honest with me. Long story short: I went to the mentor for guidance and he misled me and then attempted to block my progress — the proverbial crab in the barrel manoeuvre. (I will not go into details to protect identities.) Still, Vince’s comment bothered me because I had heard it before from other black friends, acquaintances and family.
It was true that a person that I once lavished with respect and admiration proved to be unworthy of both. Yes, that individual was black. Yes, it is human nature to recollect negative experiences with greater intensity than positive ones.
Yet, I know so very many intelligent, accomplished, hard-working, diligent black professionals that comments to the contrary irk me. So, my immediate response to Vince was to list several black lawyers who I knew were superior and recognized as such by peers and public alike. It softened his tone, but he was a reluctant convert.
To be fair, such self-destructive philosophies are by no means exclusive to the black community. Because of my profession, I am privileged to work with a diverse clientele. I have heard people of various backgrounds explain their stereotypical views about their own communities to me. “Trust me, Ms. Scarlett, I am “X” too. I know how they are. I am telling you. They are all like that! That’s why I don’t do business with them!” I am glad my clients feel close enough to me to share even their politically incorrect thoughts. In response, I feel close enough to them to argue the other side. Likewise, I cringe at internal bigotry amongst black people.
After all the achievements that peoples of African descent have made in every sphere of life such as science, commerce, the arts, athletics, philanthropy, civil rights, politics, academics, media, etc. you would think our “stereotype” would have changed by now. Something like, “You know, say what you will about black people. Despite the low expectations, discrimination and other mind games they face from elementary school on up, they have this way of excelling once they fight through those barriers.” When will that be the view that is predominantly expressed in private conversations?
Consequently, I have been ruminating about the outstanding professionals of African descent that I know personally. Many of them do not advertise in the ethnic papers nor do the get invited to speak at the JCA – not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, in the case of several, their clients and customers are predominantly non-black. (Hey, this is Canada!) They are well-respected in their fields yet, are not well-known in the community. They work twice as hard as their contemporaries and might not be as well compensated. I, for one, see no noblesse in their continued undervaluation.
So, I’ve decided to do some things, in my own way, to contribute to their progression. One of which is that, from time to time, I will place a spotlight on one or more outstanding black legal professional in my article here in Black Ink Magazine. Originally, I joined this publication to provide information with respect to Immigration or Criminal Law and I will. However, my next article will introduce you to my first recommended black legal professional.
It is time for our community to benefit from the expertise of these talented individuals as much as the mainstream population does. It’s time black professionals reap the rewards of their own efforts in more tangible ways. It is time we do more to achieve our mutual progression in this Canadian milieu.