Reactions to “Black on Bay Street”

Rachel Chan (2L), Solomon McKenzie (2L) & Anonymous

Rachel Chan (2L)

Hadiya Roderique’s article sparked a dialogue about persistent racial inequality on Bay Street specifically and the legal profession generally. The piece, published just before in-firm week, was a manifestation of many thoughts and feelings that I, as a 2L woman of colour, have not always been able to put into words.

Born and raised in Canada by immigrant parents, I feel like I can “fit” in relatively easilybut the question is how much of my culture I should (or can) bring to the table. My thoughts on this constantly shift, likely because of the duality of my identity. I recognize that I carry implicit biases, including the internalization of stereotypes about my own ethnicity and culture, that I have to actively recognize, address, and interrogate on a regular basis.

Another part of this uncertainty is being unsure how much of that culture I can claim for myself in the first place. I cannot read or write in Chinese, my command of the spoken language is likely at a grade-school level, and my family in Hong Kong think I am too outspoken. At the same time, I grew up cooking traditional meals and going to dim-sum with my family, as well as watching Chinese television. While I embrace this Chinese-Canadian identity, it is not without its challenges: it means that I often have to pick which sides of my identity I want to highlight. At other times, different parts trickle out beyond my control.

For example, I was paired with an East Asian female associate host for one of my in-firms, which seemed presumptuous. “Of course,” said my gut reaction. (Some of my friends have had similar experiences: they disliked firms pairing them with ethnic minority associates because they did not identify with that culture and saw the pairing as a ploy). But as the process went along, I was happy to be able to speak with someone with similar experiences and ask them frank questions about diversity. I made a point of doing this at most of my interviews, feeling emboldened by Hadiya’s piece. Throughout in-firms, it became apparent, particularly when scrolling through the list of partners, that people at these firms did not often look like me. While I knew that going into the process, it is another thing to feel it.

As a second generation Canadian at U of T Law, it is easy to start thinking that I do not face barriers. Sometimes I am hesitant to speak out about discrimination because of the opportunities and privilege I have been presented. The integration of Chinese immigrants into Canadian society has been hailed as a success, with this group often dubbed “model minorities.” But it is important to question these seemingly positive stereotypes, which distort lived experience. Hadiya’s article and the in-firm process was a reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done.

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Solomon McKenzie (2L)

This article had significant impacts on my recruitment experience, but even more substantive impacts on my thinking about law school. I talked about race and diversity repeatedly during the recruit. Most of it was engaged by employers; some of it was very healthy and resulted in some really meaningful conversations. Employers who were able to discuss fallibility and issues in their workplaces as well as point to concrete steps being taken to address the issues with diversity and race were particularly impressive and appealing.

However, I found that some folks used this as an opportunity to label the firms named in the article as being the problem, which I found unconvincing. It could be exhausting having to continuously talk about racial identity and diversitynaturally fraught conversations. Having to manage that awkwardness during what is already a draining experience can be tiring. While I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues, on occasion I wish I could have just spent more time talking about my excitement for various courses or past work experience. However, I don’t think it’s sufficient to solely point fingers at employers.

Law schools are a gatekeeper to this profession. According to Faculty Council’s 2017–18 J.D. Admissions Report, there are currently three 1L students who identify as Black or Mixed-Race—roughly 1% of the student class. [1] Toronto is a city where over half the population was born outside of Canada (51.2%) and is the first city in North America where a majority of its citizens are visible minorities (51.5% according to the City of Toronto). The 2011 Census found that 8.5% of Torontonians identify as Black. [2] Three Black or Mixed-Race students is a horrendous reflection of the diversity of our city. This is not a hidden problem: amongst law students, it’s actively a joke, somewhat self-reflective, that there are precious few Black (or other racialized) students here.

The law school can’t meaningfully say it’s making commitments to diversity, Truth and Reconciliation, and equity in the legal profession if representation stays this low. I’m not trying to impute ill-will. I know there is a well-meaning purpose behind the school’s actions; there are attempts to complete outreach to underrepresented communities, and there are people in the administration, faculty, and beyond who are excited about and engaged in attempts to diversify the school. However, if the effects remain that our community is not representative, what we are doing is insufficient, ineffective, and—ultimately—illusory.

There is an element of this issue that is beyond the grasp of the school: there are inarguably larger sociological forces that hinder enrollment of a large number of racialized (and otherwise marginalized) students. But a meaningful commitment to these issues means doing something to proactively counteract these forces. Moreover, we need to engage in a much longer and more tangled conversation, one that transcends mere admission to U of T, about how to build a school that promotes the successes of racialized students. And this intersects with a huge knotty mess of factors (e.g., gender, accessibility, socio-economic status) that can bedevil attempts by racialized students to thrive at law school.

Ultimately, I think savvy recruiters understand that Canada and Toronto are diverse and diversifying, and that we live in an increasingly interconnected world. Having a workforce that at least reflects the make-up of your city is an invaluable resource that will pay dividends. I am very glad that this article forced recruiters to centre their efforts on proactively discussing issues of diversity. The employers who could show that they were trying to wrestle with this issue were immediately more appealing to me. I hope that this leads to more expansive efforts on the part of everyone involved. But I still think it necessary to emphasize that if the gatekeepers to the profession remains so stoically unrepresentative, it’s not surprising that the legal profession remains the same.

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Anonymous

Hadiya’s article has received criticism for not going far enough to question the underlying culture in the legal profession, with one student noticing that:

“[Hadiya] grouped her complaints all under not fitting in on Bay Street, but there were also complaints about her desire to lead a life outside of work, which is hard, if not impossible, to do. For example, she complained about a partner getting mad about her memo being late because she was off playing ultimate frisbee. Sure, it probably was a great memo, but if it’s late then it’s late, and she skipped work to go play ultimate. That’s work-life balance that she didn’t want to compromise (which, fair enough) and, regardless of how diverse your workplace is, it won’t change the working hours. That part seems to say she wants more diversity on Bay Street in terms of work-life balance, which is unrelated to her blackness and law’s lack of diversity.”

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Anonymous

Another 2L who just went through the in-firm process shared a story that exemplifies the need for continued improvement and discussion:

“During an interview, a partner (a white man from an all-white firm) made an alarming comment about Hadiya Roderique’s article. I thought he was going to address the diversity issue at the firm, but he seemed to be completely unaware that the article was about racism. He went on this weird rant, comparing Hadiya’s experience to the pressure he feels to fit innot wanting to wear suits or take on cases that conflict with his political views. It was shocking that the whole point of the article went right over his head, and it was concerning that this might be a perspective many lawyers have.”

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[1] https://www.law.utoronto.ca/utfl_file/count/documents/2017-2018_admissions_report.pdf; The president of Osgoode’s Black Law Students Association has indicated that their membership is approximately 60–80 students.
[2] https://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=dbe867b42d853410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD