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When I attended law school in 1984, I was the only black student in the first year class. Everywhere I looked, there was a sea of white faces. The stress of law school was significant; the stress of being the only black person became unbearable at times. At one point, I had a most difficult day:
- a day when I had to listen to young white students loudly discuss the inherent unfairness of affirmative action a hundred times;
-a day when my constitutional law professor decided to teach about hate crimes and used a situation involving the word “nigger” as an example
-a day when the contract professor used a case where a “welfare mother” had her furniture repossessed and, as a current “welfare mother,” I was positive that all eyes had turned to me.
-a day when a case in criminal law mentioned race for the first time, and it was a black man raping a white woman.
-a day when so many racialized things happened.
-a day not much different than many other days, but I suddenly found the sea of whiteness unbearable. I wanted to get away, but I couldn’t because I had a class. I wanted to cry, but where could I get some privacy? I remember this day so clearly, because I ended up in a bathroom stall crying my eyes out!
Law schools, for the most part, are vast seas of whiteness that contribute to the legal profession becoming more white than the medical profession.
It is a whiteness that is dangerous, not just to the mental health of individuals of color but also to our society. It is an overwhelming display of power and control that maintains a white predominance that is unearned and undeserved.
The Census Bureau recently released information that predicts we will be a nation of minorities by the year 2050. According to the Census Bureau, white non-Latinos will make up 50 percent of the population; Latinos, 24 percent; African Americans, 15 percent; and Asian Americans, 8 percent. While there are a number of problems with these statistics, including that 50% is still a majority, I will accept this often cited mantra for the purpose of this discussion. People refer to “a nation of minorities” with wonder, with expectation, and with some amount of anxiousness. News anchors may comment on it, but no one takes the next step to ask, So what?
So what if we will be a nation of minorities?
Are we going to be a nation in which no group has a disproportionate share of wealth and power, or will we be a de facto apartheid South Africa? Like South Africa, will the wealth and power of a nation be centered in a numerical minority? Will the numerical minority become even more oppressive in order to maintain its position and control?
How will we be a truly represented nation in 2050, if we don’t begin to transfer power and wealth now?
One place to start preparing for the future is through our law school admission patterns. If law schools continue to be a sea of whiteness, then the power and wealth of this society will also continue to be white. The power brokers of tomorrow are the law students of today and right now.
The whiteness is blinding!
(Posted on February 15, 2007)