Monday, October 25, 2010

Guide to Being an Ally

When I talk about diversity I often hear about allies. Gay Straight Alliances and various ethnic and racial identity groups talk stress the importance of allies. This is interesting, because I don't think we, as a culture, know what it means to be an ally.

Too often we think to be an ally means simply to not openly endorse oppression. I don't own a pointy white hat...I must be an ally. Not true, friends.

Last week I had the (cough, cough) pleasure of listening to a group of 1Ls talk about the over representation of African-Americans in the prison system. The group consisted of two African-American men, a white lesbian, a white woman, and two white men. The white woman claimed that African-American men where inherently more dangerous than white men. As evidence, she cited a statistic that there are eight times as many African-American men in prison as there are white men (pretty sure she made that "statistic" up). Obviously, the overtly racist belief was startling; but, what I found more interesting was the silence of the other white people at the table.

The two black men both attempted to make jokes and change the topic but the white woman wouldn't back off. Eventually, the black men attempted to defend their race, the conversation got heated, and the woman stormed away. The other white people at the table looked around awkwardly and said nothing.

Why is that?

As an ally or anti-racist you have a duty to speak out against racism (or any -ism, really). Especially when it comes to talking to people with racist beliefs, the voice of someone from dominant group is going to be easier to hear, seen as less adversarial, and seen as having more legitimacy. Not to mention, it takes some pressure off the underrepresented people in the group who are already feeling attacked.

Thankfully, I can also say I've been on the other side of a true alliance this week. Over the weekend I found myself in a rather lively conversation about race, gender, and oppression with three men from fairly privileged backgrounds. I'd been defending my race and gender for a while when one of men made an analogy I took issue with. Though the analogy dealt with race and gender, I was more than happy to pass the oppression-fighting baton when a white male ally decided to point out the flaw in the analogy. It wasn't that this ally was speaking for me; it was that he saw the flaw in the argument as well and didn't think that a woman of color was the only person who could or should voice opposition. His comment reminded me that I wasn't alone in my opposition to oppression, and it felt good.

The tricky part about being an ally is that it's both easier and harder to speak out. On one had, allies are allowed to speak without representing their race, gender, or sexuality. Accordingly, they are often seen as less threating and/or confrontational (we hear about 'angry black women' not so much about 'angry white men'). On the other hand, allies tend to be less practiced. Talking about -isms can be scary and these well intentioned people often worry about being offensive to the very group they are trying to support.

Talking about identities and oppression isn't easy...but it gets easier to practice and team work.

So, just to recap, here is my handy guide to being an ally:

1. Throwing away the white hood wont do it. You have to do more than just not be overtly racist.
2. Speak up. If you feel uncomfortable with something be said around you, it's always OK to say so. Opposition to oppression that comes from the dominant group is particularly powerful.
3. Embrace community building. Don't take away someone else's voice.
Almost all people are capable of protecting themselves, but it's always good to communicate that they don't have to... they can count on you for help and support.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How do you choose which judges to vote for?

Ok, not these kinds of judges.

I have a confession to make: until about 10 minutes ago, I had no idea how to decide if I should vote for a judge or not. When I was voting in California, I usually just voted for the women or people of color. Diversity is good, right?

It's scary, I know. My method wasn't really scientific. Basically it was a simple way of eliminating some folks. My very own perverse derivation of the worlds most wackadoodle affirmative action program. And I'm a third year law student...what must the rest of the world be doing?

Well, thanks to Jim over at No Funny Lawyers I just read about Know Your The fine folks over there publish "simple, impartial nonpartisan" facts in one easy to use website. They link to Colorado's Judicial Performance Reviews, provide an overview of the process of judge selection, and even have a cute PSA. Now none of us have an excuse to place uninformed votes. Know Your Judge only publishes information about Colorado judges but I did find this (almost as helpful) site put up by the Los Angeles County Bar Association for you LA voters.

If you have resources for other regions I hope you'll pass them along. I guess for now, if you're not in Los Angeles or Colorado you'll just have to stick with the hope-the-Asian-American-woman-does-a-good-job strategy.

Happy voting!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

True Story

I've been eating lunch in the law school lobby these days and today I listened (read: eavesdropped) to some of my classmates drone on about the less than perfect job market.

"Yeah, I applied for something at Microsoft" said one particularly doll-like student, "but it turns out they're on a hiring freeze until June 30th. It would almost have been better to hear a 'no' than to be in limbo for the next several months. Well, actually I didn't even hear back from Microsoft but my boyfriend's parents are friends with Bill Gates so they had Bill check on the application."

Holy. Fuck.

Seriously? Bill Gates checked on your application? Someone explain to me how it is that first generation students are suppose to compete with this.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What I'm Reading

Fridays have become my lazy days. They shouldn't be, I have more than enough to do; and yet, I slept until 9 and, at 11:30, I'm still in my Monkey Pants . Any how, I used the morning to finish reading How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else and (as sappy as it is) I have to admit that it made me cry.

I'm coming off of an employment experience that was less than pleasurable. In the last few weeks I've watched people behave in ways that have made me ashamed to call them my colleagues. I watched a partner scream and a legal assistant as if she were an animal (not that you should scream at animals) for something that wasn't within her control and I myself have been screamed at. I realize that I am not the first or the last person to be treated poorly in the legal profession, but I can't help but wonder: Why are we (, educated people) ok with such a dehumanizing professional community?

In his book Gill chronicles his fall from privileged advertising executive to Starbucks Barista. Gill is shocked to find that the job at Starbucks makes him the happiest he's ever been. His boss and coworkers (er, Partners in Starbucks speak) created the most respectful work environment he's been in. The contrast he draws between Starbucks culture and the culture at his former advertising firm made me sad of my profession. If Starbucks can do it, we can do it. Why aren't we?

"Here at Starbucks," writes Gill, "both the Partners and the Guests seemed to agree tacitly that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity. I had never seen any work environment like it. The best Fortune 500 companies I had encountered, despite spending months and lots of money writing and publishing high-sounding mission statements, never practiced the corporate gobbledygook they preached." Gates goes on to talk about how generous his Starbucks supervisor is with praise. His former company actually had a policy against praise, for fear it would be used as evidence in unemployment or wrongful termination lawsuits.

My negative experience may just have been the organization I worked for, or the firm it was housed in. But really don't believe that's the case. I don't believe that my experience is unique to my (former) supervisor. I think it's a culture that we all endorse. People are products and appreciating a person for their humanity is not a core part of the business model. When was the last time you heard a firm, attorney, or law school representative emphasize the importance of dignity and respect? It's ok to bark at someone, to demand rather than ask, and to disregard the needs of the employee precisely because respect and dignity are not key parts of the legal culture.

High turnover, unhappy employees, burned out associated, and disenfranchised students aren't good for business or the integrity of the profession. It might be a pipe dream, but I don't think we will see the end of these blights until we embrace dignity and respect as core values within legal culture.

I considering applying at Starbucks... I should probably get out of the monkey pants.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Response to the Mormon Church

LDS leader Boyd K. Packer recently gave a speech that included the condemnation of gays and lesbians. Needless to say,given the recent LGBT teen suicides, the timing seemed pretty disrespectful to me, . I was going to write a response...but given her personal experience, Serena over at Feminist For Choice just did it better than I ever could have.

In her open letter to Elder Packer, Serena writes about her experience as a Mormon lesbian:

... You’re missing out on a good one by excluding me from your church. I garnered many of the leadership skills that I have by participating in the Young Women’s organization at church. My sense of community building was also learned in church. And now I’m using those skills to serve lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, questioning, and queer folks. I am using those skills to protect a woman’s right to control her own body. And I am absolutely unashamed of who I am.

God loves me just the way I am. If there really is a heaven, I think that a lot of people are going to be surprised when God doesn’t exclude anyone from the kingdom simply for loving another person. God is love. There are no limitations on that. ...

The LDS church is missing out on some very good people, I hope they will eventually stop their insistence on disenfranchising the glbt community. To read Serena's letter in its entirety, click here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy National Coming Out Day

In light of the recent suicides by LGBT identified teens, I hope that we'll all be supportive, encouraging and loving on this National Coming Out Day. Coming out is an act of courage, and being supportive is an act of community.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bar Results

The results of the July 2010 Bar Exam came out today; or should I say, were published today.

I will never understand why a list of people who passed the bar needs to be published. When these people are admitted to the bar there will be a public record and they will be issued an ID number. The results of the bar exam simply don't need to be release to everyone who's remotely interested.

Could you imagine if SAT results were public?
When I took the SAT you got a letter in the mail a couple moths after the exam that told your your score. That experience was anxiety inducing enough without the fear that my friends, family, teachers, and employers were going to know if I succeeded for failed in the exact same moment I did. At least I was given the privacy of reacting to the results without fielding questions/congrats/condolences from everyone with an internet connection.

Why can't the person who took the bar be the first to find out if they passed?
Under the current system, test takers are just refreshing the web page like everyone else is. It's possible, or even probable, that a person's employer, spouse, grandma, or ex could know her bar results before she does (lesson: if you're waiting on bar results, invest in high speed internet).

When I pass (you know, next year), I want to see that people are excited.
I don't want them to respond to my good news with, "Oh, yeah, I know. I googled." I'm the one who spent precious summer months studying...shouldn't I get the glory?

Isn't this antithetical to the idea of community?
Let's be honest, posting the list of people who pass the bar isn't about distributing information, creating community, or even saving some intern at the court some time. It's about being able to compare yourself to others. I've long been disappointed that the way be educate (future) lawyers does not build community or support. I guess it makes sense that the culmination of the education process is also voyeuristic and competitive.

The Colorado Supreme Court does post some interesting information.
For those that are interested, check the stats pages here and here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Have you noticed...

...that everyone from your 1L class gained weight?

Ok, maybe not everyone...but most of us. Dude I hadn't seen since my first year walked into class the other day and all I could think was, "Wow! Man boobs!" I guess the long hours we all spend reading and only having time for take out lifestyle doesn't really lend itself to a trim physique.

In that spirit (and trying to ward off some I'm-treated-like-crap-at-work depression), I spent my Death Penalty Seminar today reading food blogs. :) In the process I discovered my new go-to gift for my fellow law students.

It's a ice cream koozie! Ice cream cold, hands warm (and less than $10 on Amazon). Isn't that one of the most ridiculous things you've ever seen? If you go to school with me and your birthday is coming up, you're totally getting one of these and a Ben & Jerry's gift card.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Three Easy Mistakes Not to Make on your Résumé

I'm leaving my position work and I'm the contact for applicants who want my spot (which is pretty awkward given that it wasn't a positive experience). In checking out other people's applications I'm a little bit shocked that people make some mistakes that are really easy to fix. Thought I'd share my three favs so that you don't make the same ones.

Get Juno for only 12.99 a month!
Does your free email put ads on the bottom of everything you send out? A couple words of advice: ditch the hotmail account. It just doesn't come across as very professional and it's easy to sign up for gmail.

"Proficient at FaceBook"
Yep, that showed up on more than one application. I'm a bit of a marketing and pop culture junkie so I understand that mastering the ability to advertise and connect via social media can be a valuable skill. But (1) you don't have a marketing degree or any experience so I sort of doubt you're a guru (2) THIS ISN'T A MARKETING JOB! "Proficient at FaceBook" simply tells me you're going to screw around on the internet while you're at work. Know the position your applying for and the audience that will be reviewing the applications. If it's not marketing and the hiring committee is over 40...take the social media off your résumé.

Hiring H. Manager
So, that's actually not my name. I gave contact information everywhere I posted the job . In fact, to submit an application people had to email When people sent me cover letters addressed to "Hiring Manager" I felt a little...insignificant. Ok, not really, but it does tell me that the applicant didn't want to spend more than 3 seconds creating a cover letter that was company specific. If you're not willing to address a cover letter correctly, it's hard to picture you as a hard worker.