Sunday 14 June 2020

You Have To Be Pushed and Embarrassed

I have had a very eclectic worklife.  I have been very fortunate.  In many respects, my most enjoyable occupation was being a criminal defence lawyer.  For many years I found myself among the most sought after criminal defence lawyers in Kitchener. So, if you needed help you were fortunate if you could get my attention.

I will never forget a situation in which I was taking instructions from a potential client.  In explaining the fact situation to me he suggested that his adversaries might've acted the way they did because he was black.  I asked him to explain that again.  He said that he thought that they were prejudiced
against him because of the colour of his skin.  "But," I exclaimed, "you're not black."

  I honestly had not noticed the colour of his skin.  I dismissed his concerns in a very summery manner, even after he explained to me that his skin was in fact black.  I tried to assure him that surely that would not be a factor. I went on to take the rest of my instructions, and left the interview very proud of myself for, once again, being colourblind.  Shortly thereafter, I received a telephone call from the detention centre indicating that he no longer wished me to represent him.  I was arrogant enough to think that it was a strange step for him to take but that it was his loss.

I remember another instance in which a black client of mine and I were preparing for a trial at the same time as the trial of O.J. Simpson was ongoing.  This time, I could've told you the colour of his skin but, once again, I did not think it was relevant.  When we were finished talking, he asked if he could ask me a personal question.  I agreed.  He asked me whether or not I thought O.J. Simpson was guilty.  I said that we had only heard about the trial through the media and we had not heard any defence yet, but I thought that the prosecution had a very strong case.  He suggested to me that if Simpson were to be convicted there would be rioting in the streets.  He had to explain to me that the whole trial, as far as he and many other people were concerned, was about race.  He had to connect dots that I had never seen.

Boy, have I learned a lot in the last few days.  I confess now, that I spent the first eighty some years of my life wrongly being proud that I was colourblind.  I am now beginning to realize that if you really want to help somebody in these circumstances you must try to get into his or her skin.  Oh, opportunities were given to me and I ignored them.  I remember once sitting around the campfire at my cottage with my friends, Jen and Chad Spalding. Myrta, who was more prepared than me to confront these issues brought up the subject of race.  Chad is black.  I recall his telling us that it is something he has to be aware of from the moment he gets up in the morning in his every interaction with people other than his family.  He expressed the frustration of wishing that didn't have to be so. I think I dismissed his concerns, in part, because I thought that he had chosen occupations and friends who had white skin.

Why, in heaven's name, should that matter!

I now have a caregiver who has only been in this country a short time by the name of Gerald.  Gerald is a citizen of Uganda and has very black skin.  I asked him whether or not racism exists in Uganda.  He told me that it does not, but that everybody knows from early childhood that if you were to ever  visit or move to a country with people whose skin is white, you should expect them to treat you as if you were inferior.

Wow!!  Is that ever a heavy indictment!

  Greg Popovich is a very successful white skined coach of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team.  Most of his players are black and he thought that he was very sensitive to them on this issue.  Only in the last few days he says, have they been crying out to him about the reality of it.  He says "it's much deeper than I thought.... You have got to work harder.  You have got to be more aware.  You have got to be pushed and embarassed."

Yes, I guess we do.

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