In sharing her experiences with the Globe (“For a Black lawyer in Boston, always something to prove,” Page A1, July 29), Danielle Johnson, a staff attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, should be praised for revealing a systemic and pervasive problem.
As a clinical professor for 13 years supervising students in court, a criminal defense lawyer for 25, and a white man, I have seen what Johnson describes unfold countless other times in courthouses, law schools, and correctional facilities with law students of color, lawyers of color, and, with even more frequency and impact, criminal defendants of color. Often it is subtle and implicit, not overt. Often it is “unintentional.” Sometimes it is just a glance, a pause, a poor choice of a single word, a tone of voice, or an assumption driven by stereotype. However, any form of racism, including its clever little sidekick implicit bias, whether in the courts or elsewhere, is what we call in the law a strict liability offense: Intent is irrelevant. What matters is the impact and effect it has on others and what the behavior seems to permit and condone.
The conversation is challenging and takes fortitude. Pointing out that a supervisor, a colleague, or someone with a position of authority has engaged in an act of racism can be really hard. I don’t know anyone, myself included, who has not been guilty of implicit bias. Whether you are a victim, an unknowing offender, or an onlooker, there can be no bystanders in addressing the problem.
I hope Johnson’s courage emboldens others to share their experiences so that we can continue to rededicate ourselves to addressing racism even in our most revered institutions.
The writer is a clinical professor at Suffolk University Law School.