Inside View: Diversity: E Pluribus Unum, or E Pluribus Pluribus?

“Diversity” is a good thing, but should we not first define it? Is it limited to the color of one’s skin? Is it defined by where we are from? At the end of the day, there are many questions that first must be answered or considered before we talk about it.

For attorneys, the diversity question is more complex. Holding a Juris Doctor is reserved for only a small segment of the U.S. population—those licensed to practice is even smaller. According to various surveys, there are only 1.33 million lawyers in the United States. In Minnesota, just over 25,000 people are licensed to practice law here—a very small, and exclusive segment of the population.

We all come to the table with preconceived notions of diversity. Take the all too common interaction of lawyers on the courthouse steps. One is a white woman, the other is a black man, and the last person is a white man. We have no idea where the other person came from, where they work, why they are going to court, whom they represent, or where they went to law school. Each person has a biased notion of who the other person is, and what they are thinking:

•  The white woman thinks to herself, “Look at those two men…afraid of a smart, and independent women. How dare they give me patronizing glances!”
•  The black man assumes to himself, “Look at those two white people…afraid of a smart black man.”
•  The white man cringes inside, “They don’t like me because I am gay.”

We all come from different backgrounds. We live in different neighborhoods. Some of us are single.  Others are married. We can choose to worship or not worship as we like. We vote for different political parties—and others may choose not to vote. 
We have different social groups, and celebrate different holidays. Most importantly, we often make assumptions based on the human condition that makes us all unique and special. Yes, we are all diverse.

President Ronald Reagan marveled at the richness of our diversity as Los Angeles hosted the XXIII Olympiad. He noted that, “[W]e cheered … as the flame was carried in and the giant Olympic torch burst into a billowing fire in front of the teams … And in that moment, maybe you were struck as I was with the uniqueness of what was taking place … in the stadium …. There were athletes representing 140 countries … whose people carry the bloodlines of all those 140 countries and more. Only in the United States is there such a rich mixture of races, creeds, and nationalities, only in our melting pot.”

Central to President Reagan’s belief in diversity rested in our national moto—E pluribus unum —“Out of many, one people.” We are all heirs to the American Dream that continues to often divide, and hopefully most of the time, unite. The real question is, does diversity seek to make us one people, or should it separate.

Diversity cannot, and should not separate based on what is seen by the human eye. In what should be considered the “Great Dissent,”1 Justice Marshall Harlan saw the dangers of doing this when the United States Supreme Court reviewed a Louisiana law that made public accommodations based on the color of someone’s skin. He went against the flow of American society at that time and supported the radical belief that, “the Constitution of the United States does not … permit any public authority to know the race of those entitled to be protected in the enjoyment of such rights.”2 In pressing the majority on their “separate but equal” philosophy, Justice Harlan declared, 
“in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”3

So, what is diversity? Is it based on what we see? Does it take into account preconceived notions —our biases deeply ingrained by the human condition? No! If we allow this to happen, the many can never become one people.

This Profiles in Practice issue gives us a chance to reflect on who we are, where we have been, and where we want to go not only as attorneys, but as one people. It is an outlet to share with others our fears and aspirations as we seek justice within the American legal system, as we struggle toward equal justice for all. Many people; coming together as one.

1 Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
2 Id. at 552.
3 Id. at 559.

By Aaron Frederickson
aaron@mspcompliancesolutions.com

Mr. Frederickson is the founder of MSP Compliance Solutions, which is based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul. He has nearly two decades of legal practice experience in the areas of workers’ compensation, personal injury, and Medicare/Medicaid compliance. His passions also include assisting low income persons via pro bono legal representation.