Social Justice Initiatives
Faces of Female Leadership: Taking Stock of
Where We Are — and Where Are We Going
Margaret E. Montoya
Buenos dias. Es un placer ser parte de esta conferencia sobre el liderazco feminil. Thank you to the conference organizers, to the sponsors and Dean Kagan. Allow me to begin with a story that is both personal and collective, about memory and history, about there and here. I'll end with some analysis.
I am the daughter of Ricardo Montoya and Virginia Alarid Montoya. My father was born to a family of open pit copper miners from southern NM; my mother to a RR'ing family from northern NM. Ours is not an immigrant story, instead we, like thousands of others, gained citizenship as a result of the US' unlawful invasion and conquest of Mexican territory. After its defeat in the US-Mexico War, Mexico ceded half of its land in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, land that would become all or part of ten western states, including New Mexico. Prior to belonging to Mexico, NM had been part of New Spain for over three hundred years.
My family's stories were, and are, nuanced about identity — my mother called us Spanish — we were, after all, categorized by the federal census bureau according to Spanish language and Spanish surnames. My maternal grandmother spoke of white people as "Americanos." My paternal grandmother spoke of us as "Mexicanos." During the civil rights movement we began calling ourselves Chicanos. And despite the Supreme Court's pronouncements, (from Taney to the Warren court and to today), we never thought of ourselves as "white." Recently I have settled into calling myself Latina.
Although my family didn't cross the border, I closely identify with Mexico and with Mexican migrants. The toxic tone of the national discourse about "illegals" sweeps me up too in such categories; those who talk about sending "them" back to where "they" came from are talking about me too. Race in the U.S. is still largely a black-white dynamic and too few know this history that is woven into my worldview.
Higher education degrees — and a Harvard Law Degree is arguably the most prized credential of all — are also certificates of racial assimilation. To be accepted and to go to school here, and then to gain and keep employment in virtually all law offices, requires exquisitely subtle knowledge and a set of skills related to decoding and encoding racial cues and markers. Lawyering for many, not all, women of color requires the dual consciousness that DuBois wrote about; this processing from two perspectives makes leadership for women of color very complex. Racial assimilation requires that we peel off parts of ourselves to be more presentable, that we deposit our worldview and lived experiences at the door like unwanted luggage.
For the most part we live our professional lives in White Space, a concept that I borrow from an article called "The Law of White Spaces" by Peter Goodrich and Linda G. Mills. White Space grows out of a history of racially exclusive policies as well as our contemporary penchant for silencing discussions about racial difference. The macro and micro consequences of this racialized silence are part of what women of color are negotiating in their roles as leaders.
I have elsewhere used a generational model to talk about the nature of racial diversity in law schools, law firms, courthouses; I use this model here because it helps us sort out the uneven results that we see in the profession. First Generation diversity is characterized by a small number of exceptional hires. Within a 1st Generation office, women leaders of color are often seeking access of different types and can fall victim to tokenism. The Star Performer risks being marginalized or even doomed if she advocates about race-related issues.
I call Second Generation diversity the Noah's Ark; in these institutions we begin to see a wider diversity. You find women of color from several racial groups. The diversity is likely to be more regionalized: for example, Cubanas in Miami, PuertoriqueÃ±as in NY, Chicanas in LA. In 2nd Generation offices the leadership objective is not access but inclusion and a search for a sense of belonging
Third Generation diversity is characterized by intra-group diversity, representation is more even across racial groups. It has been called Critical Mass. In such law offices or law schools we begin to see intragroup differentiation and conflict, which, if embraced and managed adroitly can be constructive and begin to result in structural and institutional change.
From what I can tell, I'd say that Harvard is between the first and second generations of diversity — its student body and curricular offerings have grown more diverse over the years, but its adminstration and faculty are not quite a Noah's Ark. At the University of N.M. School of Law, we are 5 Latinas and 4 Latinos, half of the faculty is persons of color; slightly more than half are female. I am privileged to work in this institution with 3rd Generation diversity characteristics and challenges. But let me be clear, even though my law school is a highly diverse institution, it remains White Space with echoes of exclusion, resonances of discrimination, and the silences which mask relations of racial superiority and inferiority.
Leadership work on race continues to be risky for one's career and professional reputation; it's emotionally draining, outcomes are often ambiguous and victories, shortlived. As we know, the personal is the political, and in these times of polarized political currents, the details of our lives as women of color are often the subject matter of the Cultural Wars.
In the time I have left I want to highlight the burden that comes with professionalization and particularly the cultural assimilation that many women of color have to shoulder to negotiate the White Space that permeates most social spaces. We are aided in this discussion by the scholarship that analyzes race as performance. In the conference materials, we have included an article, "The Fifth Black Woman" by Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati which describes the concept of racial performances. Carbado and Gulati describe the employment risks for women lawyers whose behavior is explicitly racialized; those who "perform" their racial identities in an unassimilated manner. Their scenario has a Black woman lawyer being denied a promotion to Partner because of her racially linked choices or in other words, she's denied the promotion because of how she performs her racial identity: she wears her hair in dreadlocks, her clothes are ethnic in color and cut, she advocates for minority hiring, evades the country club, graduated from the local law school, is a single mother living in the inner city, active in black organizations and a member of the Nation of Islam. With these choices, she is racing herself and emphasizing her Blackness. Given that her evaluations have been uniformly positive, such racial performance choices, singly or in various combinations, explain Carbado and Gulati, can be the basis for the firm's decision not to promote her although this racial behavior will not be expressed rationale.
This election cycle has brought racial performances into the public debate: We all understand what it means that Barack Obama might be thought too black or not black enough? Is he too assimilated or not enough for the job he's seeking?
Our social codes have evolved so that racial assimilation isn't imposed out in the open; instead women of color have to ferret out such preferences and prejudices. Professional advancement and personal happiness often turns on such subtleties. The cost of assimilation is very high — as we adapt to the profession, we find ourselves struggling to fit in with our families and old friends; we are viewed with suspicion by our home communities. When we look at ourselves, we can wonder where we lost important parts of who we once were.
Racially diverse spaces engender discomfort. You may not know what to expect from me when I begin a speech in Spanish. You may resist my framing of my family's history within a vocabulary of U.S. imperialism and unlawful territorial grabs. You may look around and celebrate how far Harvard has come, while I ponder why it hasn't gone farther in its admission and hiring decisions — where are the students educated at community colleges and state colleges? Where are those with Spanish-accented English? Where are the darker skinned Latinas? Why aren't there Latinas on the faculty?
My relationship to Harvard has always been a conflicted one. I left with a credential that would open many doors and certify me in some quarters as having leadership material. Developing leadership is a terribly serious issue for women of color and for our communities. J. O'Connor reminded us in the Grutter affirmative action case that the legal profession is a primary pathway to leadership for the entire society. However, Harvard Law has not yet reinscribed excellence to mean multiracial excellence; its brand is not that of a multicultural entity. What would it mean to our society if Harvard's power and resources were harnessed to re-create itself into what it would have been if it had never been segregated by race and gender? Can we imagine what Harvard would be like if women — and women (and men) of color — had been here for the past 372 years? Can we imagine what Harvard Law School would be like if women — and women of color — had been here, not for 55 years, but for 191?