Adapted from a post on the MO-SOLO Listserve, written by me this evening:
Good evening to all from the lovely contours of an RV park and tiny house community in the California Delta. For those who do not know me, an intro: I am a 1983 UMKC School of Law graduate (with distinction, for what it’s worth). Born and raised in Jennings, Missouri, a small town which is part of St. Louis County and is situated just east by northeast of Ferguson. My mother’s sister raised her family in Ferguson and some of them still live there. I am Irish/Austrian/Lebanese, which makes me read as white in social construct parliance. My mother was 1st generation and my father descended from the Doctor Mudd who fixed the leg of John Wilkes Boothe as well as from Irish immigrants to Kentucky. I am 64, disabled (all my life), vote largely Democrat skewing liberal-to-progressive. I am the proud mother of a Chicago union activist working with BLM in Chi-town.
I have first-hand witnessed mistreatment on the basis of race, starting as a child in the 60s and 70s when our newly integrating community found the “first black families” to be suspicious; to the mid-70s when I was evicted for having a black boyfriend; and continuing to the 1980s, when I was refused service with a black friend on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City because, and I quote, “we don’t do salt and pepper here” . (In those last two cases, myself and each friend filed complaints, prevailed, and in both cases donated our awards to causes helping under-served in each community.)
During (so far) thirty-seven years of practice, I have seen black attorneys treated with less respect than white attorneys by court clerks, judges, witnesses, other attorneys, and police officers. I have seen similar treatment of female attorneys. I have represented people who were considered to be presumptively criminal or negligent because, and I quote, “you know how their kind are”. I have heard judges describe a colleague whom I didn’t know by saying, “He’s usually late; he’s black, you know.” (I sh*t you not.) I have never been harshly judged because my skin is pale, but I have seen people be nicer to me than a friend or associate because my skin was light and theirs was dark, so I don’t say I have never been judged by my skin color — I have; and come up well for it. In other words, though I’ve suffered by being female and disabled, I have gotten advantages for being “white”.
[Oh, once a black social worker objected to a black foster child being placed in my home because I was white. Imagine her shock when my five-year old chirped up and said, “We’re not white, we’re beige.” But that’s another story.]
My younger brother has seven children, of whom one is Vietnamese and four are black. I have one Korean nephew. I have in fact always had friends of many varieties — black, white, beige, Asian, gay, straight, bi. I even have one or two friends who are Republican, though that’s getting harder and harder to justify, though I try.
So now you know my background and the framework from which I speak. And here is my opinion about the question of racism in our courts [the debate being, as to courts in Missouri, where I practiced for 35 years].
I have observed a substantial amount of racist behavior in our courts and among our bar. I have observed a substantial amount of sexist behavior in our courts and among our bar.
There must be a systemic solution to racism. There must be a systemic solution to sexism.
If you are white. you have less room to comment on racism than if you are black. If you are a man, you have less room to comment on sexism than if you were a woman.
I’ll use my circumstances to illustrate: I am disabled and have been since I was two. I am somewhat sensitive about my disability. But I try to make light of it. However, if you are not disabled, I would prefer that unless you know me very well, you not make light of it. No crip jokes on the first date, so to speak. That’s a simple, harmless example.
But take it a step further. In law school, I struggled for two months to get to classes in the three-story building because the elevator was locked. I asked numerous people how I was supposed to get to/from class when it took me sometimes 30 minutes to climb a flight of stairs. Finally, one of the professors (I think it might have been Jeff Berman but I could not swear to it any more) decided that I should be given a key to the elevator. That gave me a more level playing field. But still: Several classmates complained that they did not get keys to the elevator. They were not disabled, mind you; they thought I was being given advantages that they were not being given. Get it? I wanted a level playing field; they felt I was being given extra help. What I would have preferred was a different style of architecture — a building all on one level, built in pods like a wagon wheel so that I could park in the middle and everything was a short level walk away. That would have been true accessibility. I had to settle for a key to the elevator.
To my complaining classmates, the situation looked one way.
To Prof. Berman, it looked a different way.
To me, it looked yet another way.
And none of those appearances was the same.
Which view was correct?
The reality: As a disabled person, I found the environment of the law school inherently unfair due to it being traditionally constructed — three levels, long hallways, stairs, heavy doors, locked elevator. Prof. Berman’s solution was to at least give me a key to the elevator. I wanted the building to have been designed to be accessible to everyone. My classmates thought I was being given undue advantage.
I hope this example helps someone here think about different perspectives. It’s a simple example but maybe it will open someone’s eyes.
I encourage everyone to speak with empathy and to listen with open minds and hearts. But at the end of the day, I am on the side of progress. We must stand for justice. I fall on that side of the debate. The [Missouri] Bar and the Bench [like the rest of the world] need to rebuild to make the building accessible to everyone, not just begrudgingly tender a key to one locked area of the house.