• Erin Keith, Esq.

Black. Woman. Attorney.

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

Black woman attorney. There are times when the Black Woman portion of that phrase truly matters more than the attorney part.


I'm sitting in court today, in the section where attorneys sit as they're waiting for their cases to be called. I have on a suit.


White older male attorney ("courtroom counsel") comes in and looks at the list of clients and then looks at me.


Him: Are you Ms. Smith? Me: No, I'm not. (Mind you, I'm thinking, does this man really think I'm his client if I'm sitting where attorneys usually sit??!!!)


Him: *looks around the room and comes back to me.* Are you sure you're not Ms. Smith?


At this point, I'm irritated. I wanted to say something back like, "I think with three degrees I would also know my own name." But, not wanting to come off as an angry black woman, I suppressed it. I just said politely, "no, I'm not her."



Fastforward 15 minutes. I'm standing outside the courtroom. And I hear shouting. I hear another Black woman literally screaming and yelling at a white male attorney. She is visibly shaking on the verge of tears. Her attorney is saying, "Ma'am you have to calm down." "Ma'am it's not a big deal," to which she responds "What do you mean?!"


The bailiffs comes over (two black men) and they're like, "ma'am you have to lower your voice." "You have to be quiet." "You have to give the attorney some space."


And she's like, "I would give him some space if he would do his job. They're trying to evict me when I've been paying my bills on time. They have me living in a roach infested apartment with no heat and mold. They won't fix anything. And now they're trying to evict me?!!! Have you ever raised kids in a place with no heat in Michigan winter? I had my children in no heat. And I've been paying my bills. I've given them $1,800. Somebody needs to help me."


The bailiffs are like, "ma'am I hear you but you have to calm down." They explain that she's disturbing court and causing a scene and that the judges can hear her (read: *paraphrasing* we can arrest you).


At this point, I'm on the verge of tears myself, because all anyone is listening to is her tone. They don't hear that she has been wronged. They don't care that she actually has a right to be upset. They reduced her pleas for help into her being another angry black woman. Period.


So I walked over to lady. Black woman to Black woman. I pulled her aside. I let her cry. I gave her a hug. As a HUMAN BEING. And I told her that I heard what she was trying to say. I told her that it would be okay. I affirmed her right to be upset. To have feelings. To be pissed TF off. And you know what? She calmed down. On her own. Without getting arrested. Without needing men with badges and tasers to tell her what she " needed to do." She then explained in her own words that she had not been properly served and did not even know she had this eviction hearing until Saturday when she happened upon a court summons in her mailbox. Which is another reason she was so upset. She felt blindsided. And you know what? Being angry *gasp* makes sense when you feel blindsided...especially when no one is listening.


The white male attorney came out moments later and said that her eviction case was dismissed. Which made me wonder, why wasn't it dismissed in the first place if she had documentation? Nothing changed in 5 minutes except that she cursed that man out and held him accountable.


The reality is, too often, if Black women don't yell and scream nobody listens. Nobody helps. Nobody does anything. They just go along to get along. The attorney was compassionate by this time and explained that he wasn't trying to belittle her situation...that he also had a family and wouldn't want to be in her shoes. But I think she was over him at that point.


It doesn't matter if you're a Black woman defendant or a Black woman attorney. If you're a Black woman people will dismiss your presence and invalidate your legitimacy.


Before leaving, I gave the woman my card and said that I would email her some resources on ways to hold landlords accountable.


And then I went to my car and I cried. I cried because of this world. I cried because of a world where this work is even necessary. I cried because sometimes a law degree isn't nearly enough.



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©2019 Growth Under Oath by Erin Keith 

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