I spent my life as a Black woman being pushed toward low-paying jobs, and that hasn't stopped during my career as a lawyer
After writing an article for Business Insider last month about my experience living the racial wealth gap as a Black female attorney, white trolls descended on my story. One category of responses was the skeptics — they questioned my class ranking, claimed I was inarticulate, and took issue with my desire for upward mobility. The skepticism is nothing new. For years I've been steered by school counselors and others in low-paying jobs instead of the high-paying career I sought. Sign up to get Personal Finance Insider's newsletter in your inbox »
Recently, I attended an arbitration, or informal trial. My client was Black, as were the opposing counsel and her client. The other attorney and I entered the arbitration room carrying files and pulling rolling briefcases. We greeted the panel of three white male arbitrators and signed in — a formality only attorneys would know to do. We sat and waited for the case to be called to order. After 15 minutes, the chairperson asked, "Are the lawyers coming?" What people say — without thinking — has an impact, with or without racist intent. As a Black female lawyer, being met with skepticism in the face of obvious and verifiable facts is par for the course. When I related this story on Facebook, the knee-jerk reaction was, No way! But in the back of white peoples' minds, they cringe knowing this could be true. Last month, I wrote an article for Business Insider about living the racial wealth gap. The day the story went up, the editor emailed me: "Your piece is getting a lot of attention — not sure if you want people to be able to contact you ..." I said no. However, 20 Black people tracked me down to show support, commiserate, and ask what advice I would give current law students. And of course, there were the expected white trolls. Conscripting a friend to read the comments My article was shared at least 25 times from my original post and made its way onto NPR's Facebook group "Your Money and Your Life," where it garnered at least 243 comments. Not eager to roll with trolls, but still willing to respond to comments that show how insidious the racial wealth gap continues to be, I conscripted a white friend for this task. Risé Sanders Weir, a documentary film director, vetted the comments and shielded me from the worst. My favorite racist comment was "Fake News!" which I take as a high compliment and proxy for "Glaring Truth!" Related Product Module: Related Product Addressing the skeptics who responded to my story Risé divided the remaining comments into four categories: Whitesplainers, Skeptics, Racists, and The Choir. I'll address the skeptics here. She identified three basic brands of skeptic. One brand suggested that I was "inarticulate." The second demanded to know my class ranking (believing that the system is meritorious). The third brand of skeptic took umbrage with my Gen X Black girl upward mobility. In response to category one: I was senior class president at a predominantly white private school. I talk. For a living. In response to concerns about my class ranking, the real question is whether students with my ranking were employed by the silk-stocking firms mentioned in my original piece. The answer is yes. The placement office took out the "Big Book of Placed Students" in front of me and searched by GPA. I was assured Michigan Law routinely placed graduates with my GPA at silk-stocking firms. My presumption is that these people were white. And the final group of skeptics commented that I had earned more money than white people they knew. Why did I expect to "get rich" because I went to a top 10 law school? How does one respond to an attack on the "American Dream"? I can't imagine a white person defending their desire to earn a salary commensurate with their level of education. Why go to law school to be poor? I was already poor. I've long been steered toward low-paying jobs The skeptical comments about my earnings get at the crux of the continued racial wealth gap. How dare I aspire to move up in the world or reach beyond a perceived limited destiny for my race and gender. I was pushed toward low-paying "female ghetto" jobs by teachers and school counselors. College counselors didn't ask about my interests, check my grades, or consider why I might be a philosophy major. They only sought to slot me into the teacher/social worker/nurse categories. Noble jobs I did not want. Even after I graduated from law school, I was asked why I didn't seek a low-paying job at a women's legal clinic or pursue criminal defense. I've still had to defend my choice to seek a career that offers better than a living wage and hope of overall financial advancement. To repeat the intro for the outro, what people say — without thinking — has an impact, with or without racist intent. I push back, but not everyone does. Related Content Module: More Personal Finance CoverageJoin the conversation about this story »
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