by Jamila Archibald
I’m Jamila – I am a newly qualified solicitor at Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP. I am proud to be of both Scottish and Caribbean heritage. Like many others, I have personally felt affected by the death in the United States earlier this year of George Floyd which has sparked a discussion about what it means to be anti-racist; the conversation has progressed from condemning racism to encouraging society to practise being actively anti-racist, and the ways in which we can all be aware of, and address, our own biases. It is extremely important that as a profession we address and face racism head on and support each other. I explore the various ways in which to become an anti-racist ally below.
So how do we become anti-racist? Being afraid of saying the wrong thing is often the first hurdle to overcome; however, by remaining open to learning and participating in discussions we can contribute to dismantling bias or prejudice in society. The best allies are those who are willing to make mistakes and to keep trying. They acknowledge when they get it wrong or could do better, and strive to improve. They listen and they learn.
There are different types of allyship described below that may suit different people but each of which ensure we are constantly educating ourselves and contributing to the eradication of biases from society. In general, these methods include discussions with peers, educating yourself about cultures that may be unfamiliar to you (Black History Month being one opportunity to do so), speaking out against racial bias, and reflecting upon your own biases.
The Sponsor: when an ally takes on the role of sponsor, they vocally support and endorse the work of colleagues from underrepresented groups in all contexts, but specifically in situations that will help boost those colleagues’ standing and reputations. This is not to be confused with the role of a mentor: a mentor lends their perspective, while a sponsor gives opportunities.
The Advocate: an advocate is someone who publicly supports the diversity and inclusion agenda and under-represented groups. They use their power and influence to bring peers from underrepresented groups into exclusive circles. The advocate recognises and addresses unjust omissions, holding their peers accountable for including qualified colleagues of all genders, races and ethnicities, abilities, ages, body shapes or sizes, religions, and sexual orientations.
The Scholar: the scholar is a knowledge-seeker who actively seeks to learn as much as possible about the challenges and prejudices faced by colleagues from marginalised groups. Scholars do their own research to seek out the relevant information and seek to learn, unlearn and relearn what they know.
The Amplifier: When an ally takes on the role of amplifier they work to ensure that marginalised voices are heard and respected. This type of allyship can take many forms, but is focused on representation within communication. It has been recognised that ethnic minorities, women and other underrepresented groups often experience their voices being ignored, spoken over or interrupted. It has been said that one of the reasons the Obama administration was the most diverse was because of its ‘amplification strategy’ adopted by the female staffers in meetings. When a woman made a point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the room to recognise the source of the contribution and amplify the idea in the meeting.
The Upstander: an upstander is the opposite of a bystander and is someone who speaks out or intervenes on behalf, and in support, of someone when they see or hear something is wrong. These can be everyday microaggressions or micro-inequities. This person pushes back on offensive comments or jokes, even if no one within earshot might be offended or hurt. Passive silence can be tantamount to active complicity.
The Champion: a champion acts similarly to a sponsor but does so in a more public setting. Champions willingly defer to colleagues from underrepresented groups in meetings and in visible, industry-wide events and conferences, sending meaningful messages to large audiences.
The Confidant: a confidant creates a safe space for members of underrepresented groups to express their fears, frustrations, needs and goals. Simply listening to their perspective and trusting that they’re being truthful creates a protective layer of support.
We should also be aware of performative allyship (the disingenuous profession of support of a marginalised group in return for a reward or to be seen to be “on the right side”) or opportunistic allyship (words or actions in moments of crisis when participating may have some gain). True allyship is the authentic alignment between practicing values, learning and action. We can all contribute in different ways to celebrate diversity and increase equality in society within the legal profession. Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, and join the discussion.