Dismantling Performative Allyship and the Woke Public Defender
We all remember the summer of 2020.
In the public defender community, we rallied, we cried, we issued statements in support of Black lives after George Floyd was murdered on camera. I believe we had good intentions. We felt badly. I think we felt exposed by our own racism, and our role in upholding racist systems. I think we felt exposed by our own classism and our role in upholding a “caste” system. In short, we collectively became woke.
That is a good first step, but what is next?
Since George Floyd’s murder, there have been subsequent state sanctioned murders of people of color. A confederate flag was flying in the capital building during the insurrection on January 6, 2021. Not many of our organizations said much. Leadership of public defender offices remains disproportionately White.
I am a diversity and inclusion officer for a public defender system, one of the first D&I officers for a PD system in the country more than likely. We are doing the work of creating diversity values, checking ourselves on including Black and Brown people, LGBTQ people and others in our decision making in our system. But, we have so far to go. The task at times seems daunting, but we’re public defenders. We are used to overcoming challenges. We can do this.
However, public defenders, it is time to end performative allyship and actually create policy that effects change. It means that if you want more managers of color, then you create a management training program that targets outstanding lawyers of color for management tracks, similar to the partnership track in firms, in public defender offices.
It means, that if you want single women of color to have equal footing in the work place, then they are given workplace flexibility to meet the demands of the intersectionality of being female, Black and/or Brown, and a mom. Many parents and people can benefit from a flexible work policy and should, but it significantly helps BIPOC women who are statistically more likely to be single parents.
It means saying and believing we trust people to do their jobs, and if we don’t, then putting support in place to get them to where they need to be. That support looks like formal and informal mentoring and sponsorships. It looks like leadership training. It also looks like funding D&I in your public defender offices to include diverse speakers and implicit bias training that is regularly done. It looks like getting your legal staff decent chairs.
It looks like as a leader, continually learning to lead. None of us have arrived.
It also looks like giving the LGBTQ community and BIPOC communities safe spaces to build community at work through employee lead resource groups. It looks like advocating for better pay for support staff who disproportionately identify as BIPOC when compared to attorneys and senior leadership. It looks like finding a space in your office for new moms to pump breast milk who don’t have offices, or if you are in leadership, giving up your own office to allow them to do so.
We have done some of these things in our system successfully. We have made some progress from where we started. Join me in where we are going.