Thu Jun 03 2021 04:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
If I could go back in time, I would advise my past self to go to law school earlier so that the first year doesn’t coincide with a pandemic. My heart goes out to all the 1Ls trying to make friends and build a professional network over Zoom. On top of the anxieties of indefinitely living a mostly virtual life, law school is emotionally burdensome for students of color. Growing up in post-9/11 America primed me to be critical of the American national security and justice systems, and attuned to social justice movements as a whole. So, it is intellectually taxing to be forced to learn about and often legitimize a system that was not created with me and so many others in mind.
Often in law school, we read cases where the court leaves out factors like race and ethnicity because the largely cishet white male judges have never had their identities weaponized against them. Even when the biases of the court are explicit, not every professor chooses to critically discuss them. As a result, law students are taught the law as if it's neutral and not a crucial tool in upholding systems of oppression while students from marginalized communities are exhausted from shouting into a void. Though I have had professors committed to teaching how the law has disproportionately harmed certain communities, many more need to follow suit given all the ‘listening and learning’ of the past year. Unless you came to law school already being critical of the legal profession, I am not sure law school actively teaches you to be, which is a problem. According to the American Bar Association, only about 5% of lawyers are African American, 5% are Hispanic and 2% are Asian, and these percentages have remained relatively stagnant over the past decade despite demographic shifts trending towards a majority-minority nation. I don’t want to know exactly how few South Asian women lawyers there are.
I wanted to help people as a public interest attorney, but the last few years have been disillusioning. I struggle with whether our society needs more lawyers and how much I want to participate in a system that defines justice in violent terms such as mass incarceration, indefinite detention, and state execution. It seems we have sacrificed our humanity for a fleeting and false sense of security. However, so long as the current system stands there will be an acute need for lawyers, lawmakers, and judges who envision a new kind of justice.
I’m definitely not a legal expert, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far it’s that laws are arbitrary, yet they’re presented to us as objective and inevitable. As quickly as they are written they can be unwritten, and that’s not a ‘radical thought.’ There is a tendency to frame anything that veers from the status quo as radical. A more equitable world is within our reach so long as we can imagine it. Also, being labeled radical when you’re Muslim just hits different. Though it’s comforting to know that many of my peers feel similarly, it’s also a reminder that no matter how many individuals try to be a force for good from within, the system is designed to stifle and dilute any kind of movement for substantive change. Not to mention, burnout and the financial realities of being a public interest lawyer are prohibitive. The traditional lawyer’s role seems limited to harm reduction, as opposed to prevention, which is still a noble role that must be filled. In short, the revolution will not be in court.
I am a proud Bangladeshi woman, and resistance and collective action are our traditions. I carry that heritage with me as I join a profession that needs new voices. We also need more progressive South Asians in every industry. It’s not enough that we all love the same food and have overbearing parents. It’s time we translate our shared cultural experiences to a shared political and social justice agenda tasked with building a truly equitable society for all Black and Brown people. In solidarity, minorities can shift the majority.
Law, Social Justice, Non-Traditional