October 2012 Bar Bulletin
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October 2012 Bar Bulletin

Majority Rules:

On Being White and Racially Aware in the Legal Profession

By Travers Gee


I am a third-year law student at the University of Washington School of Law. I grew up in Anchorage and completed my undergraduate degree in Olympia at Evergreen State College. After completing my degree, I worked for seven years in the mental health field and also volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for children living in abusive and neglectful homes.

I developed an interest in law through my work with mental health consumers in a court program in Alaska and through my volunteer work as a CASA. Both these experiences gave me the opportunity to participate in court proceedings, which inspired me to seek a career where I could advocate for people's rights.

After completing my second year of law school and my second summer internship, one thing that became apparent to me is that those who make up the legal profession and those who are being trained to join the legal profession are almost all white. It is not uncommon for me to attend classes entirely made up of white law students.

During my first internship, I worked for a white judge who had an entirely white staff. During my second internship, I worked at a public defenders office where I met only two lawyers of color, went before only two judges of color, went against all white prosecutors and saw only white people serve on juries. These experiences made clear to me that white law students, such as myself, face a very important question: How does being white affect us as lawyers and as people, and how is our perspective impacting the legal profession?

Sadly, part of the common experience of white Americans is to be blinded to how our skin impacts us. We grow up in a culture that embraces white skin as the norm. This is true in the literal sense in that we rarely will describe someone as being "white," because that is the default, though we would often make note of someone's race if they are not white.

It is also true in the cultural sense in that the things that are associated with being white in our culture are the norm and anything associated with another race is a deviation. Thus, the message that most white Americans are raised with is that their experience with being white is the "normal" American experience and is not impacted by the color of their skin.

Not understanding how the color of one's skin affects one's experience as an American leads to not understanding, and sometimes not even acknowledging, how the color of other people's skin affects them. This leads to what has commonly been referred to as racial colorblindness.

Racial colorblindness is when a person fails to acknowledge the validity and often even the existence of other racial experiences in their culture. When someone is racially colorblind, they believe that they are adopting a neutral and objective perspective when really they are treating their racial perspective as if it were neutral and objective.

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