Graham, an attorney, details his confrontations with deep but subtle racism in his debut memoir.
The African-American author, who has a law degree from Yale University, writes that he once thought that his accomplishments would be enough to overcome racial bias in his chosen field of corporate law. In this book, he explains how this turned out not to be the case. Specifically, Graham describes a system of institutional racism, supported by white workers who insisted racism did not exist and by African-American workers who wished to avoid being accused of “playing the race card.” He emphasizes that the so-called “polite” type of racism is subtle but constant and that it quickly takes its toll. For example, he notes that only a small fraction of law partners and Fortune 500 CEOs are African-American; that mentors will often overlook African-American candidates; that some firms officially embrace diversity but do little to prove it; and that African-American workers are often left out of informal support networks. The author includes personal anecdotes to accentuate his points, such as when his firm’s publicity material listed every partner’s name except his own and when visiting counsel automatically assumed that he was a file-room worker. Graham also suggests specific ways that organizations can address racism, such as by genuinely investing in diversity initiatives and encouraging white employees to confront racist attitudes. Overall, his book acts as an effective reminder that prejudice doesn’t have to be obvious to be harmful, and the current political climate makes Graham’s goal—to see an effective, national discussion on race—even more vital. Some of the book’s final moments, though, seem to emphasize laughter over complaint and counterintuitively assert that “racism can never be used as an excuse for not succeeding in America.” Despite this, Graham makes it clear that the stakes involved are high and that much work needs to be done to counteract ignorance and resistance.
A timely, often illuminating examination of systemic bigotry.