International Law Firm’s Black History Month Post Boasts of Employee’s Child’s Black Friend

Credit to Author: Manisha Krishnan| Date: Thu, 25 Feb 2021 14:09:47 GMT

An international law firm is apologizing over a Black History Month post that appears to boast about the fact that one of its employee’s daughters has a Black friend. 

In a company screensaver titled “Recognizing Black History Month at Gowling WLG,” which was shared on Twitter Wednesday, an employee tells an anecdote about meeting their child’s friend Daniel. 

“My daughter inspires me a lot. When she was younger, she often spoke of her friend Daniel. One day, my husband and I attended an event at her school and finally got to meet Daniel. He was very nice and extremely polite; my grandmother would have said he was ‘well brought up.’ Never during the course of her friendship with Daniel did my daughter mention he was (Black). That night I went to sleep with the hope that one day, race-based conflicts would forever be behind us.” 

“As soon as I saw their post, I thought to myself, oh gosh, not again. It’s disheartening but not surprising to see whiteness being centred during Black History Month, and at one of Canada’s oldest big law firms,” Amanda Bartley, a human behaviour researcher, told VICE World News. 

“The tired ‘I don’t see colour’ position is a form of racism and it tells me that if you don’t see race, then you aren’t able to see people in their entirety… The problem with someone thinking this and the firm reinforcing it by publishing it, is how can this firm hold itself accountable to addressing and eradicating anti-Black racism?”

Dozens of people also tweeted concerns about the post and questioned why no one flagged any issues with it.

“Nice white folks going to sleep until racism is done… How Canadian!,” one person tweeted, while another said, “Our company is so (committed) to diversity, that one of our employees has a kid with a black friend.”

According to its website, Gowling WLG has offices in 19 cities around the world.

In an email statement, Peter Lukasiewicz, CEO, Gowling WLG Canada, said the posts were part of an internal campaign to address systemic racism. 

“We encouraged colleagues across the firm to share supportive statements and personal experiences that relate to this important work. We are aware of posts that do not accurately reflect our values. We apologize for this, have removed the posts, and are in the process of reviewing all posts to ensure they reflect our values. We are also reaching out to our people to ensure their voices and perspectives on this matter are heard and so we can learn from this matter.” 

Gowling WLG Canada promoted a panel featuring its diversity and inclusion manager Rebecca Jaremko on Twitter Tuesday.

In response to a tweet about how law firms who want to “avoid public & embarrassing diversity blunders should consider focusing on real change,” Jaremko tweeted about the firm’s “new anti-racism Pro Bono initiative.” Jaremko also tweeted that Gowling’s “commitment to allyship” is genuine. 

“Rebecca, now using your firm's new Pro Bono anti racism work to gloss over the harm of this post and your direct responsibility in it looks terrible. It comes across as a saviour complex,” Bartley tweeted in response. 

An Instagram post featuring a photo of 18 new Canadian Gowling hires from “a rich diversity of backgrounds” appears to show mostly white people. 

Samantha Peters, a Toronto-based lawyer working in labour, employment and human rights, said the Gowling post reinforces the idea that “white representation is what is considered acceptable, professional, good.” 

Peters, who is a Black, queer femme, said when she entered law school, a white student immediately asked her if she had gotten accepted via an equity stream. In job interviews, she said she would have to “think about how I do my hair, how I need to speak, how I need to act.” 

Peters has carved out a niche for herself practising law outside of Toronto’s Bay Street, but she said many Black and Indigenous lawyers, including those who identify as queer, are driven out of the profession. 

In 2017, journalist and lawyer Hadiya Roderique penned an essay in the Globe and Mail detailing the isolation she felt as a Black woman working on Bay Street. 

“We need to create a profression and workplaces where folks can feel safe and supported and can bring their whole selves into the job in order to do well,” Peters said. 

Last summer, several Canadian law firms, including Gowling WLG, signed the Black North Pledge, a commitment to ending anti-Black racism within their ranks and increase opportunities for Black employees. 

Lukasiewicz said the firm’s anti-racism plan also included the establishment of an anti-racism action committee and the pro bono diversity and inclusion initiative aimed at “providing meaningful support to worthy causes in our communities. 

But Peters said these types of initiatives are often performative. 

“It’s just all these random things but it doesn’t actually lead to anything practical. If you’re actually talking to Black folks, did we ask you to sign onto a pledge? When we talk about what we asked for, that’s not what we’re getting, and so again, that is centering whiteness.” 

This isn’t the first Black History Month-related blunder in recent days. Earlier in the month, Durham Region, a municipality in Ontario, apologized after issuing a Black History Month “challenge” that included tasks like talking to a Black colleague and listening to a reggae song. 

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