[OP-ED]: Potholes Persistent On Road To Progress On Racist Exclusion
Recent developments on America’s rocky road to equality of opportunity for all races merit cheers and jeers.
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The number of non-white lawyers in Philadelphia’s lucrative plaintiffs bar increased during the past decade – a development that deserves some applause irrespective of the fact that non-white attorneys working for trial lawyer law firms in the city remains small.
One recent development in New Jersey – a state where Latinos and blacks comprise 35 percent of the population –merits jeers.
This development is the lack of specific provisions for the inclusion of non-white owned businesses in the recently unveiled construction plans for the $300-million renovation of New Jersey’s historic State House building in Trenton.
This failure to specify inclusion ensures shameful exclusion of non-white businesses on another project funded by dollars from taxpayers.
The trial lawyer diversity survey conducted annually during the past decade by The Legal Intelligencer, the Philadelphia-based newspaper covering the legal community, recorded the increase of non-white plaintiff bar lawyers in Philadelphia.
According to the Intelligencer’s latest diversity survey, Hispanic lawyers represented 12 of 550 attorneys working at trial lawyer firms in Philadelphia…a slight bump up from the 2016 number of 10. During the past year Asian-American lawyers increased from six to seven while blacks increased 16 to 24.
While the number of Hispanic lawyers working in Philly trial lawyer firms is indisputably small at 2.2 percent, historically its arguably significant considering the fact that Pennsylvania did not get its first Hispanic lawyer until 1965.
Another point of significance reflected in this more than a doubling of non-whites at trial lawyer firms in Philly since 2007 is the increase in non-whites and female attorneys resulted from conscientious efforts by the legal profession to improve diversity.
Conscientious efforts to increase participation of non-white firms on government-funded projects are not evident in New Jersey, the state governed by the bombastic Governor Chris Christie, a Republican with an unabashed streak of bigotry.
If past practice is an indicator of future performance, failing to include specific provisions for the inclusion of non-white owned firms on the mega-bucks State House renovation project – as has occurred under Christie – means exclusion.
The reality of progress on racial fairness is: without conscientious efforts to improve inclusion the inertia of exclusion robs non-whites of equitable opportunities for economic improvements.
One Christie official, a deputy director of contract administration, brushed off a recent inquiry about the dearth of minority business inclusion provisions on the State House renovation with an unsubstantiated claim that since NJ “far exceeds” it annual contracting goals for small business inclusion there was no need for minority business set-asides on the State House project. That deputy haughtily declared that large white firms could use smaller minority firms for subcontract work “if they so choose.”
The seminal 2001 study on institutional discrimination in Philadelphia’s public and private construction sectors issued by Angel Ortiz – Philadelphia’s first Latino City Councilmember – concluded that government needed to “strongly” push companies on publicly funded projects or the “illusion of inclusion” would persist.