We’ll never be younger than we are today. Our youth and prime of life are fleeting. As George Bernard Shaw famously declared, “youth is wasted on the young.” Our generation, the Millennials, is said to be the most racially tolerant of any generation. However, we may not be as racially tolerant as the media triumphs, or as we are led to believe. Still, in 2009 45% of Millennials believed in “improving the position of blacks and other minorities ‘even if it mean[t] giving them preferential treatment.’” Contrast our support with Gen Xers (30%), Boomers (27%), and the Silent Generation (25%) and you might believe our belief system and social construction could be quite different than of those before us. As Brian Easter, CEO of Nebo Agency, asks, “So the question is… can Millennials’ beliefs be turned into actions? Or, like the pigs of Animal Farm, will they become what they despise?” Of the 223 firms The American Lawyer surveyed, minorities account for just 14.1% of all attorneys. Among partners, only 7.6% are minorities. According to NALP, only 5.4% of partners at the 200 largest firms are minorities. In other words, 92-94% of Biglaw partners are white. When it comes to diversity in the legal profession, the status quo is our enemy. How can we best deal with this reality? We must begin to ask the hard questions if we want to understand the true causes. We should strive to discover the most optimal ways to influence change in the industry. As agents of change, our success is incumbent upon those willing to swim upstream, against the current. Sasha Dichter, Chief Innovation Officer at Acumen Fund, has highlighted four things that are necessary for social change to happen. He derived these four keys from a speech by Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson’s TED talk about America’s justice system has attracted more than two million views and “inspired one of the longest and loudest standing ovations in TED history.” As noted by Dichter, Stevenson states the four things required for social change are:
- We need to get proximate to injustice. “The only solutions that work are the ones that are developed when one has an up-close view of a problem.”
- Change the narrative. “What is really going on when, say, a 14 year old black boy lashes out and throws a book at a teacher? Is the solution to incarcerate that child or to ask what happens to a child who has lived for 14 years surrounded by violence?”
- Keep hopeful. “We give up on issues that we believe are hopeless, wrongs that we tell ourselves simply cannot be righted. ‘Injustice prevails when hopelessness persists.’”
- Do uncomfortable things. “Whether it is the people who led or joined the civil rights movement (or any other movement that created large-scale change), each and every person made a decision at a critical juncture that they were willing to be uncomfortable and put themselves on the line.”
Change rarely consists of an episodic narrative, but rather it often takes a critical mass or impassioned minority over time to invoke a difference. There are early adapters to every disruptive technology, activism is no different. As Robert Louis Stevens once said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Anything we accomplish will be because we have stood on the shoulders of giants. Anything the generation after us accomplishes or strives to accomplish can help be determined by us, and those that came before us, as well. Perhaps Bob Marley captures this idea the best when he sings, “Rise up fallen fighters. Rise and take your stance again…. As a man sow, shall he reap, and I know that talk is cheap. But the heat of the battle is as sweet as the victory.” Many people, especially in my generation, misconstrue Wu-Tang’s C.R.E.A.M. (cash rules everything around me) philosophy to mean that one’s own ultimate goal should be the almighty dollar. But as RZA has stated, “‘C.R.E.A.M.’ really says what we went through to get this money. And cash does rule everything around me, but it don’t rule me. That’s how come we got it. It’s good because we came from the bottom of the bottomless pit. . . . when Wu-Tang came together, we vowed brotherhood to each other. When you stick together with your brothers, man, you can’t lose.” Last Sunday, numerous minorities were nominated and awarded Golden Globes from the film industry, a notoriously tough industry for minorities to break through (e.g., #OscarsSoWhite). Just as 94% of partners at the largest 200 largest firms are white, so too 94% of Oscar voters are white — only 2% are black and 2% are Latino. The Oscar Academy Awards won’t nearly be as diverse as the Golden Globes Awards. Correlation or causation? Remember my theorem? Anyways, three speeches at the Golden Globes really caught my attention. The speakers were diverse, but the message was singular. Just as Wu-Tang preached brotherhood, so too did the speakers reiterate the same sentiment — we are all our brother’s keeper. In her inaugural appearance, Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Comedy. In her acceptance speech, Rodriguez declared, “This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to be seen as heroes.” Backstage, Rodriguez teared up and stated “the nomination alone was a win for me because it allowed Latinos to see themselves in a beautiful light…. We are dealing with a society that is so diverse, so beautiful and so human. We need to remember that we have the same stories, and see it as such.” Fargo was awarded the Golden Globe award for best TV movie or TV mini-series Sunday night. Creator Noah Hawley said the award was a tribute to “the heart of what Fargo is about – that you can change the world, not through grand acts of heroism, but just by being decent to people…. As Marge Gunderson [Fargo’s main character] so eloquently put it: ‘There’s more to life than a little money, you know.’” Selma’s “Glory” won the Global Globe for best original score in a motion picture. In his acceptance speech, Common proclaimed, “As I got to know the people of the civil rights movement, I realized, I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. Selma has awakened my humanity… Now is our time to change the world, Selma is now.” Accidental activists do not exist. We cannot hope our way to change. Diversity needs to be fought for, it needs a voice. As Common raps in “Glory,” “No one can win the war individually. It takes the wisdom of the elders’ and young peoples’ energy.” Can Millennials disrupt the Biglaw status quo bias toward diversity? Yes, we can, and we will.