An Invitation to Exploit Anti-Asian Violence

I wasn’t planning to write about anti-Asian violence, a subject that is suddenly on the radar of the legal profession. As an Asian American lawyer who has built a career in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) space, I didn’t feel compelled to weigh in or at least not immediately. There are plenty of others who are better positioned to speak to or write about our country’s history of anti-Asian sentiment, to share their personal stories and experiences about being the victims of racial animus, and to address governmental or organizational responses to these concerns. I have been seeing law firms, corporations, bar associations, and other groups and individuals issuing statements condemning this violence and expressing their solidarity with my community, and I have appreciated them, even the clumsiest, because I could understand and recognize the good intentions behind them. But this morning I reached my breaking point and rather than scream or vent to sympathetic friends (and by doing so simply add to their distress), I want to tell you about it. 

Among the emails awaiting my attention this morning was an invitation from a company in the business of producing CLE programming. In many jurisdictions, we lawyers are required to earn a certain number and certain types of CLE credits in order to maintain active law licenses. Mind you, this wasn’t an invitation from a bar association or a not-for-profit organization whose mission is educational or for the greater good. This particular invitation was from a company that makes money by producing and selling CLE programs. I don’t have any objection to that business model. Clearly, there must be a need or how else would they stay in business?

This company was offering me “the opportunity to develop and present a CLE program explaining anti-Asian violence.” In other words, I could volunteer hours of work developing and presenting this program, research appropriate written materials or spend additional hours authoring new ones, for the opportunity to speak about a highly complex and emotionally charged topic. And between the lines: “here’s a chance to satisfy your ego and validate you as someone qualified to speak for Asian Americans, all the while generating  revenue for us.” Harsh? Sure. But true? Definitely.

Now, let me note that I do speak and develop programs for countless bar associations and other not-for-profit organizations as a way to support them and their good work. Indeed, I work for a not for profit. We, too, rely on the generosity of lawyers and other professionals to help us produce programming that in a small part helps support our organization so that we, in turn, can continue our mission of educating and promoting DEI in the legal profession through the research, reports, and programming we offer at no charge. I believe that the individuals who allow us to benefit from the generosity of their time and expertise do so because they understand that in doing so, they are contributing to those efforts to advance DEI in the legal profession. 

Does the legal profession need education about anti-Asian violence and our country’s long history of anti-Asian sentiment? Absolutely. And Asian Pacific American and other bar associations are producing some outstanding programming and writing on it – I refer you to the Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”) and Paul Weiss report, “A Rising Tide of Hate and Violence” or the work of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (“NAPABA”) or Asian Americans Advancing Justice (“AAJC”) as places to start.  But I was appalled and offended that this for-profit business would seek to profit off my own and my community’s distress. And just to make sure I wasn’t misreading their intentions or misinterpreting their motivations through my own implicit biases, I made some inquiries to see whether this particular company gives any support, financial or otherwise, to organizations that focus on social justice for Asian Americans or professional support for Asian American lawyers. Short answer? No. Nada. Nothing. 

It’s not a flattering reflection on me but I confess did indulge myself for a few minutes, imagining accepting this invitation and then, during the actual program, taking them to task for their attempt to exploit me. But I hope I am not so petty and mean-spirited as to do such a thing. But I thought about it.

Am I being crass? Is this simply about money? Would it have been better if they’d offered an honorarium or a donation to either my own not-for-profit organization or a charity of my choice? Maybe not better but more respectful, more honest, more honorable. 

So, what are the takeaways from all this?

If the media reports about the surge in anti-Asian violence have led you to be curious to learn more about underlying causes, the long history of anti-Asian sentiments and violence in the US, biases about Asians, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, South Asian Americans, etc., and the particular challenges individuals from these communities are trying to address as part of American society generally and within the legal profession specifically, that’s a good thing. There are many resources available to support you in your education and development. If you want to know more, especially about how this intersects with the legal profession’s DEI efforts and how law has been used to support and reinforce anti-Asian bigotry and racism, I and countless others are prepared to tell you. Continue your support and allyship; it is deeply appreciated and greatly valued. Your friendship makes difficult times easier to bear. But don’t allow others to compound the problem by exploiting Asian Americans or other historically marginalized groups to turn a profit. Shame on them!

By: Sandra Yamate, CEO, Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession