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Black Connect
by on March 10, 2019
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Are we done chasing those conjoined twin unicorns known as Diversity & Inclusion? Or nah?  For those of us that never fell for the okey-doke and cringe every time those two words are uttered together like peanut butter & jelly, you will breathe a breath of fresh air to know that an attorney in North Carolina has called bullshit on the facade that is called diversity and inclusion at her workplace.

The lawsuit filed by a Black attorney, Sharika Robinson, against her Charlotte, North Carolina firm, Robinson Bradshaw, has bought the modern day employment practice of the token Negro to light.  In the suit filed on March 4, 2019, in United States District Court, Robinson alleges that she was convinced by the firm, through its public advertising and private interviews that Robinson Bradshaw was committed to the ideals of diversity and inclusion. However, Robinson says the firm’s claimed commitments were blatant lies, made to fake the existence of a meaningful program to achieve diversity and inclusion in order to attract clients requiring such programs.

Robinson alleges that once she began working at the firm in 2015, she quickly realized the truth — that Robinson Bradshaw remains a “good ol’ boys club” dominated by White male partners as the firm uses minorities as “diversity props” to impress clients while overtly, systematically, implicitly, and intentionally discriminating against and oppressing them. It is alleged that the firm has had no more than ten (10) Black lawyers in its history since 1960 and that Robinson Bradshaw and its partners have profited by maintaining their facade of diversity and inclusion.  

The Perversity & Illusion

Examples of the firm’s hollow commitment to diversity & inclusion are cited in the Robinson’s complaint:

  • White males predominate as partners in every practice group, control all or most client relationships, and control the opportunities available to associate attorneys to gain experience, enhance their skills, and advance toward partnership.
  • The predominant white males consistently overlook minorities in extending opportunities for growth and advancement.
  • Lawyers of color are few. One recently hired Black male associate and Robinson are the only Black associates in the Firm’s three offices.
  • Black lawyers are staffed on cases and matters when clients demand diversity, then are assigned busywork with no meaningful impact. White male lawyers are favored and not subjected to humiliation.
  • On numerous occasions, a partner brought Robinson into a client meeting where she had no role other than to be in the room and be seen by the client.
  • Robinson was typically excluded from participating in discussion among Firm attorneys on case strategy, direction, and decision-making.  When given a research assignment, Robinson was told by a white associate that he did “not need or want her thoughts,” just the case citations.
  • White male associates are favored in socialization and marketing events such as playing golf or attending meals and sporting events.
  • The Firm appointed Robinson to the Firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. However, the committee meets no more than once per year and nothing of substance was accomplished at any meeting.The Firm made no progress increasing minorities but instead seemed to go backwards. Minority lawyers were leaving, not staying.
  • The Firm suppressed Robinson’s attempt to discuss the shooting of a Black male by the Charlotte police department.
  • The Firm expressly forbade its Black lawyers from discussing any issues related to race while they were gathered in Firm-sponsored segregated events.
  • Persons of color may not express themselves but must be on guard against making the white male lawyers uncomfortable.
  • At a Firm event including spouses, a white partner approached Robinson’s then-husband, reached out, and touched his hair.
  • When Robinson spoke to a Black lawyer at the Firm about the Firm’s hostile work environment, the Black lawyer told Robinson she needed to accept this type of treatment and not to expect the Firm to change.
  • A white male lawyer at the firm told Robinson she had “no seat at the table” on strategizing their case, and increasingly treated her with disrespect, often causing Robinson to cry at work.
  • A white male lawyer reviewed an article Robinson wrote, then told Robinson her writing did not conform to “fairly widely accepted … principles of legal writing.”  The North Carolina Bar Association soon published Robinson’s article as drafted by Robinson.

The Reality

The incidents described in Robinson’s lawsuit are not shocking, unique, or isolated incidents.  Diversity and inclusion is nothing more than a trendy marketing and public relations ploy used by companies to attract the most skilled and talented Black labor and Black consumers who spend over a trillion dollar per year.

Black people are conditioned to believe that working their way up the corporate ladder is the American way.  It is not.  Ownership is the American way. Owners create generational wealth and leave a legacy for their families.  Employees focus on shiny things — a corner office, a raise, a fancy title, a pension. If you are an employee, you have no power and no control, no matter how educated, dedicated, or talented you are.  Control over one’s work environment and career growth can only come through ownership.  That is the reality.  Yet, less than 3% of all business in America are Black-owned.  

The Bigger Picture

In the capitalist society called America, economic independence, civil rights, and social justice are inextricably intertwined. 45 years ago, U. C.  Berkeley Professor Michael Reich prophetically wrote in an article titled, The Economics of Racism:  “[T]hus, racism is likely to take firm root in a society that breeds an individualistic and competitive ethos. In general, blacks provide a convenient and visible scapegoat for problems that actually derive from the institutions of capitalism. As long as building a real alternative to capitalism does not seem feasible to most whites, we can expect that identifiable and vulnerable scapegoats will prove functional to the status quo.”  

Since Reich’s article in 1974, Black people have continued to play their primary position as workers, consumers, and scapegoats, which has proven functional to maintain the status quo to the socioeconomic detriment of the Black race.  We are willing to start at the bottom of a company and spend years devoting our time, knowledge, skills, and talent to help build businesses that create wealth and legacies for other races.  

Can you imagine if we decided today to put that same focus and energy into building and supporting Black-owned businesses that provide better working environments and create wealth and legacies for our children and future generations?  Is that vision not more hopeful and fruitful than the current reality of maintaining the status quo for Black people in America for the next 45 years?

So, are we done chasing diversity & inclusion? Or nah?

 

Terms related to this topic:

Token - The effort of including an employee to a workforce to create the impression of social inclusiveness and diversity (race, religion, gender, etc.)

 

Robinson Bradshaw issued a statement through its attorney that reads: “Robinson Bradshaw denies Robinson Robinson’s claims and specifically denies that the firm discriminated against her in any way. We are committed to diversity and inclusion, as evidenced by our attorneys’ contributions to the firm, profession and community as a whole.”

Posted in: Business