gowling wlg


The UK Chairman of Gowling WLG has apologised after the firm was criticised for celebrating Black History Month by quoting an employee recalling how they once met a black man who was “very nice and extremely polite”. 

The quote appeared as a screensaver on the computers of Gowling WLG staff in Canada.

“My daughter inspires me a lot. When she was younger, she often spoke of her friend Daniel”, read the quote. “One day, my husband and I attended an event at her school and finally got to meet Daniel. He was very nice and extremely polite; my grandmother would have said he was 'well brought up.' Never during the course of her friendship with Daniel did my daughter mention he was black. That night, I went to sleep with the hope that one day, race-based conflicts would forever be behind us.”


Gowling WLG Black history month

And do you know, he even helped with my shopping.


A screenshot of the well-intentioned anecdote was leaked on Twitter where it was condemned by pundits for implying that a black man who was nice was an outlier worthy of remark. One disapproving commenter joked that the post gave “the highest praise it’s possible to give” to a black person: “he was so good it was like he was white”.

Others accused Gowling WLG of paying lip service to diversity, pointing out that none of its new Canada partners appeared to be BAME.

More derision followed when a Gowling WLG post from October was dug up which quoted a white marketing executive praising black people for influencing his music taste and being good at sports.


gowling wlg black

Just a fan of black stuff generally.


Gowling WLG swung into full self-flagellating damage limitation mode, and said it would be “reaching out” to all its people to “listen to their perspectives and learn from this matter”.


Gowling WLG tweet apology

Andy Stylianou, Chairman of Gowling WLG UK LLP and the firm's lead on diversity and inclusion, told RollOnFriday, "We are deeply sorry that a post that does not reflect our values appeared on an internal network in Canada yesterday".

"Addressing systemic racism requires a collective effort and we actively encourage our colleagues to become allies" he said. "However, we recognise that we have more work to do to educate, upskill and empower them".

RollOnFriday asked the firm whether Stylianou's reference to "systemic racism" was an admission that Gowling WLG was racist, but a spokesperson clarified that he was "addressing systemic racism across society as a whole".

Last year the Senior Partner of Freshfields apologised after staff criticised his expression of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tip Off ROF

Comments

D&I Guy 26 February 21 08:40

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh when paying lip service to radical ideologies lands corporates in hot water. 

'Say the buzzwords, say 'upskilling', 'empowering', 'systemic racism', all that crap'

'We must tackle systemic racism'

'So...you're racist?'

'No, our system isn't racist. We meant the other systems.'

'Which systems?'

'The others. In society.'

Monty 26 February 21 09:08

I think what he was trying to say - albeit didn’t express intelligently or coherently - is that children don’t see colour and that this is something to which we should all aspire. I have a mixed race son in a less-than-diverse prep school and this rings true for his friends too. 

Anonymous 26 February 21 09:21

Monty 26 February 21 09:08

I think what he was trying to say - albeit didn’t express intelligently or coherently - is that children don’t see colour and that this is something to which we should all aspire. I have a mixed race son in a less-than-diverse prep school and this rings true for his friends too. 

No.  In this man's mind white is the default.  White to him is like water to fish - so pervasive and all-encompassing that he doesn't even notice his assumptions about it.

If his daughter told him she's seen a mugging outside her school I wonder what colour he would have assumed the mugger to be.

Anon 26 February 21 09:56

Anon 0921 - why should there be any surprise or cause to note that a black person might be polite??

Monty 26 February 21 09:56

@Me

Is it? My son is 5 and mixed race. He was invited to a friend's house for tea. The friend (blonde, blue-eyed) had reported to his mother than he and my son looked identical, were best friends and liked all the same things. She was visibly  surprised by his appearance, then she told me why and we all had a chuckle over it. (He is the only mixed race child in his class.) How else should I have expressed it? (Genuine question in what is obviously a minefield).

Should I have tried harder to be offended? 

Bore off 26 February 21 09:57

@ 9.25.

Please God stop with the 'sAyInG yOu DoN't SeE cOlOuR iS pArT oF tHe PrObLeM' nonsense. No it isn't. 

My mother is black African and my father is white British. Growing up I would never in a million years have identified them that way, they were simply 'mum' and my 'dad'. I never ever wondered why my mum was black or my dad was white, or thought about the distinction. 

The colour of their skin wasn't relevant to me at all. Nor was my own, brown, skin.

Does that mean I see don't see colour? Shit, am I racist?

Anonymous 26 February 21 10:03

@09:21 - statistically speaking, if he were a resident of the UK, it would be fair for him to see the mugger as black.

Inconveniently for this particular though experiment, violent street robbery (AKA, 'mugging') is a disproportionately 'black' crime in the UK.

Interestingly, he would also have been correct to take a probability based approach and to envisage the victim as black. But I suspect that is also probably unhelpful to the point you are trying to make.

In the spirit of being helpful, burglary would be a far better crime for you to use for this thought experiment in future cases.

HooperX 26 February 21 10:13

@ Monty: Yeah, you should probably see an optician about that.

Or, if not "see" then, at least visit them. 

Anonymous 26 February 21 10:26

I can't believe they published that badly put statement. The resulting debate is all too obvious.

But, taking it at face value here, isn't the story that someone had an encounter that challenged the assumptions that were poured into them in their formative years. And they reflected on it and realised that there's a better way to be/think? And if it looks like someone has taken a step in the right direction, shouldn't we focus on that and encourage them to take another step in that direction? (And perhaps to articulate it better... please god, Gowling, hire some extra skilled communications people so you have the bandwidth to do this better.)

If we bawled-out toddlers every time they tried to pronounce a word for the first time for not being perfect orators, it would hardly encourage them to keep learning and growing. I wonder how much harder it will be for Gowling to get someone to talk about reflecting on how foolish they feel about the way they thought in the past, and how it is possible to grow, next time around? And how many fewer real conversations that provide opportunities for growth will happen because people fear they will be howled down for not being perfect, rather than encouraged for trying to grow - however badly put. And how much less likely this makes the positive change many of us hope to see.

Anonymous 26 February 21 10:35

It's 2021 not only is this man surprised to meet a well-behaved black child.

And not only that but he thinks that relating a story about how pleasantly surprising he found the meeting shows him in a good light.

This child is not a unicorn.  He is not unusual or exceptional.  That so many people think he is, that's the problem.

Anonymous 26 February 21 10:39

This comment has all the charm, insight and emotional intelligence of a Harrison Ford seduction scene.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWoP8VpbpYI

Atheist 26 February 21 10:39

Racism is an odd one. An insult usually hurled by people of religious groups who have specific insults for unbelievers who wouldn't dream of allowing members of their religion to "marry out". 

Amory 26 February 21 10:45

You're not fooling anyone Anonymous 26 February 21 10:26, member of Gowling coms team. 

Bok 26 February 21 10:45

It's clearly a clumsily expressed quote and it might make people feel uncomfortable, but it's well-intentioned. A lot of normal people are clumsy with this stuff. But now you're not allowed to be. There's a whole way you're supposed to talk about race coming from the US. It's very elitist. You need a degree to keep up with the constantly-evolving terms and theories (apparently all white people are racist now, and can never not be, they just need to always be working at it, oh and they need to dismantle the police and prisons and capitalism). 

People are so unforgiving, too. The response to a misstep like ham-fistedly saying black people can be nice is utter rage and incomprehension from a particular strata of, it seems to me, generally highly-educated young people.

Instead of saying sorry, a Gowling WLG genuinely invested in improving conversations about race might have doubled down and said yes, we probably shouldn't have chucked it on a screensaver for black history month, but nonetheless this is the perspective held by lots of people - perhaps of a different generation, or class to you - and they're trying. They might be expressing themselves inelegantly, but we need to create space for them to engage in the conversation, too.

jamiestone1 26 February 21 10:55

the comments are not acceptablr because they are patronising however well-intentioned they are.

It’s a bit like saying “my neighbour is a woman and she is a very capable director of a major company”

or “my daughter’s teacher (in Canada)is Muslim but speaks excellent English”

There is something about indirect structural prejudice that makes people extremely defensive it appears. In their minds only “active intent to hurt feelings or cause offence” is a problem - not wider societal issues.

guff 26 February 21 11:03

‘indirect structural prejudice’ 

i think it’s exactly this sort of elitist jargon Bok is taking about, Jamiestone1

Lydia 26 February 21 11:42

Best to keep off these issues where possible as however well meaning people tend to get themselves tied in knots over it.

Anonymous 26 February 21 11:46

Jamiestone1 there with a classic example of why contemporary 'wokeism' is so counterproductive.

Someone tries to say something nice to a member of a minority, albeit doing it in a bit of a hamfisted way, Jamie responds by inventing a salad of gibberish buzzwords to give himself something to accuse them of and to let him pat himself on the back about.

And, lo and behold, an attempt at pleasant interaction becomes an accusation of perpetuating "indirect structural prejudice".

 

Net result: The recipient will think "alright, message received then" and just stop bothering to try in the future. They may even decide to start resenting wokeists as intolerant knobs who aren't worth listening to. We all take a step backwards rather than forwards.

Monty 26 February 21 11:51

@jamiestone1

I've been on the receiving end of the first comment, including from older members of my own family. Is it acceptable? Not in most contexts, but coming from a well-meaning and fundamentally proud/supportive place, I can't get too excited about it. We're all learning and society has changed immeasurably even in the 4 decades I've been around. We aren't there yet.

I'm going to save my ire for people like the one who thought it was okay to ask my husband (brown, Muslim, NHS doctor) if he was a suicide bomber. Or the one who insisted she couldn't understand a single word he said and needed a different (aka white) doctor despite the RP he learned in a British school. 

Most right-thinking folk are allies in this fight, but many are reluctant to engage when inadvertent or inelegant expression of supposed wrongthink provokes howls of rage that discourage and stymie debate. 

Anon 26 February 21 12:00

It's articles like this that are part of the problem. The guy said something in a slightly awkward way but was well intentioned. We can all do this sometimes. Let's move on. The alternative is we let identity politics make society more divided not less by trying to see racism where there isn't any.

Really2 26 February 21 12:14

Should this not be reported? I’d rather someone was shining a light on what’s happening, otherwise it all just rolls on in darkness. 
Rof looks to me like it’s mocking all involved, and mostly the firm’s positions rather than the person who said the thing. 

Anonymous 26 February 21 12:21

Gowling’s comms team ought to have known far better, but the outrage this apparently caused on Twitter says more to me about the Twittersphere than anything else. 

Anonymous 26 February 21 12:46

new

Me 26 February 21 09:25

@Monty the fact that you say "don't see colour" is problematic 

It's only problematic for those pitching that oversimplified "How to be not racist" guide doing the rounds amongst law firms as a proxy for actually engaging with the topic.  For those who haven't seen it, it tells you that saying this is a microaggression because amongst other things you are lying.

The authors clearly didn't think it though, because that's tantamount to saying racism is inherent/genetic.  Of course some people don't notice skin colour as relevant in any way, particularly. We are taught to be racist.

When the phrase is used to suggest the speaker doesn't have any personal responsibility for tackling racism or to deny cultural advantage arising from it, that's a different story.  But nuance doesn't fit nicely into a world of simple slogans.

Anonymous 26 February 21 12:49

Ah the irony of people jumping on the soapbox about racism and not even noticing their sexist assumptions. 

Anonymous 26 February 21 12:52

I agree that it was probably well-intentioned by the speaker (and take the point about not achieving anything if we just scream "you're evil" at people when they try but fail), but howTF did someone from Gowling not notice that it was effectively saying "The kid was so nice and well brought up I was surprised to see he was black".

 

Simple Guy 26 February 21 12:53

I would have thought the following:

1) Parents find out that their kid's friend is Black and forbid him to ever meet that friend again = racist.

2) Parents find out that their kid's friend is Black, are happy about it and go to bed "with the hope that one day, race-based conflicts would forever be behind us" = not racist.

And that trying to find arguments to depict 2) as being 1) was just counter-productive. But I'm just a simple guy...

Anonymous 26 February 21 12:58

The commonplace ignorance shown by the originator of the message is not such a big deal as the fact the the company and the marketing department actually thought this showed the firm in a good light.

That's what institutional racism is.  The company doesn't even know what it is doing. It's not a question of perception.  There's no argument to be had here.  It's clear as a bell.  And sadly, as the comments here show, commonplace.

Anonymous 26 February 21 12:59

I think it's nice that the white folk don't think it matters.

If only the black folk would listen and be told then there wouldn't be a problem.

Look closely 26 February 21 13:20

STOP PRESS At no point does the quoted person confirm that Daniel is black. 

Anonymous 26 February 21 13:27

Look closely 26 February 21 13:20

STOP PRESS At no point does the quoted person confirm that Daniel is black. 

The saddest thing about this post is that the poster thought it was worth posting.

Still...

Asshats gonna asshat.

Anon 26 February 21 14:19

Is there a 'did not happen' button because there's a few posts I would like to flag. 

Anonymous 26 February 21 16:46

I think it's nice that the white folk don't think it m​​​​​atters.

If only the black folk would listen and be told then there wouldn't be a problem.

 

Nice display of racism yourself, as well as failure to read.

Anonymous 26 February 21 18:46

Nice display of racism yourself, as well as failure to read.

 

Are your feelings hurt?

Random dude 26 February 21 21:18

I think you are struggling with sarcasm there anonymous 16:46.

Some folks really want a pat on the back because their child told them a kid in class was nice and then they found out the kid is black.  Wow, so impressive your child didn't tell you said nice kid was black.  So great.

We will see how things are when that good kid becomes a man, how will the parents treat him then.  

Orwell 27 February 21 10:42

No I'm not, Random Dude. The commenter has assumed that the people who have partly defended the original quote are white. If you actually read the comments you'll see that's not the case. HTH.

Anonymous 27 February 21 11:20

This comment has all the charm, insight and emotional intelligence of a Harrison Ford seduction scene.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWoP8VpbpYI

 

But... but... but...

YOU RUINED HARRISON FORD FOREVER.

Tony Rocky Horror 27 February 21 17:59

Hilarious.

 

An over active HR department I think.

 

Hands of ham. Hilarious.

 

 

People are people. Simple.

I must be a racist 28 February 21 18:43

I must be a racist as I mistook the first screenshot to be a suggestion that this person’s daughter didn’t mention her friend being black because it didn’t matter to her, but I didn’t know the statement was racist until it was pointed out to me by someone who clearly wasn’t contorting it’s meaning to fit their own woken agenda. I am also a racist because I like funk and hip hop while I am not black. Oh well, on with the purge etc. 

Anonymous 01 March 21 09:36

@18:43.  There is one sentence on the original comment that implies a racist POV.  That could have been unintended, or it could be that the commenter could benefit from learning more about the fact that racism (and all "minority" issues) include assumptions that the dominant cultural norm is the only correct/proper way to be.

But I'm with you on the sentiments behind "purging". There are some very clear examples of racism that people rightly deserve a proverbial kicking over.  There are a lot of other areas where people could benefit from education and discussion.

Of course, there are also a bunch of other people that will refuse to be self-reflective about their role in making other people's lives really crap or who really don't want to lose their dominance.  Usually easily identified be those who use words like wokeism.

Anon 01 March 21 19:44

I was born in Cambridge, and my father too. My grandfather emigrated from Poland in 1953. I have a Polish surname but not a very difficult one to spell or pronounce.I am a private client solicitor and my former, chain smoking, secretary would frequently reassure clients when making an appointment ‘not to worry as he is very English’....

colourblind 02 March 21 12:26

[email protected]  The whole point is that being colourblind is not a thing.  It's only ever white people who think it's a thing.  I pretty much guarantee that the 5 year old black kid is acutely aware of the difference between themselves and the white kid and has already been exposed to being different/racist treatment even if they don't understand why they are treated differently.

I must be a racist. 02 March 21 13:30

Anonymous 01 March 21 09:36, I'm genuinely confused by the outrage that these screenshots have garnered, and also by your reply to my comment.  You're correct - I come to the story with some assumptions.  I assume, for instance, that the person who wrote the comment is a white hetero-sexual woman (dare I? Perhaps it's a black homo-sexual man?). I'm also assuming that the same author isn't recounting a tale about her 30 year old daughter studying her post-grad at Cambridge, but more likely is referring to a young child, with the point of the story actually being that the young child doesn't see people through a lens of race or colour, and so that was never mentioned in the course of conversation with her mother (or father; will we ever get to the bottom of that). 30 years ago it may have been a different conversation, with a small child coming home from school to talk about her new black friend, with the emphasis on black.  If the anecdote implies anything it is, hopefully, that things have progressed somewhat, if not perfectly.  That is the intention of this person's anecdote. To read it otherwise is churlish. It is not supposed to be Shakespeare. It is a sound-bite of a person's life and was meant to convey a message of hope which, yes, perhaps says a lot about her (or his) assumptions. Instead, this well intentioned woman (or man) has been basically shamed into thinking that they're racist.

The very woke outrage at the comment in the screenshots actually serves only to discourage people from engaging in the very conversation and education you claim you want to foster.  It undermines the foundation for discussion of the broader debate and issues, by picking on a badly phrased story.  It wastes time, like this.  As do underhanded comments that I could probably benefit from some education about racism, "minority" issues, and assumptions.  By the way, since when have we been seeking to overturn the dominant cultural norm of being nice and extremely polite?  

Your ad hominem attack throughout, and in particular the last sentence, speaks volumes about your own attitude of tolerance. I also didn't use the "word" wokeism.  You also either misspelled "by", or forgot to add "to" before "be".  Please submit a redraft by tomorrow morning. 

Anonymous 03 March 21 08:27

What is bizarre is that people protest against slavery (abolished almost 200 years ago) but have no problem buying a £2.50 t-shirt from Primark.

Anonymous 03 March 21 08:29

Religious person: "you are racist and discriminate against me and my religion".

Also religious person: "my children are not allowed to marry anyone outside my religion, else my family and community will disown them."

Anonymous 03 March 21 17:04

What is bizarre is that people protest against slavery (abolished almost 200 years ago) but have no problem buying a £2.50 t-shirt from Primark.

What is bizarre is that there is a lawyer who doesn't understand that people can be complex and contradictory, or at least pretends not to understand it in order to make a cheap, infantile, meaningless and irrelevant point.

Anonymous 04 March 21 01:04

At the other end of the racism scale, I had a young female relative in Year 11 doing a school exchange program in Alabama.

She invited a female school friend over to her Alabaman host family's house.

The lovely evangelical, Christian host-mother yelled, " I am not having that n***** in my house ! "

My female relative had not thought that the amount of melanin in her friend's epidermis mattered.

The lovely evangelical, Christian host-mother seems to have had different views.

 

It is a shame that Gowling GLG gets flack for clumsily expressing positive ideas.

Meanwhile genuinely racist politicians, CEOs and public figures get a pass.

 

And meanwhile the right wing highlight infighting episodes like Gowling GLG to claim that we on the left flank are crazy social justice warriors.

 

Anonymous 04 March 21 07:10

What is bizarre is that people protest against slavery (abolished almost 200 years ago) but have no problem buying a £2.50 t-shirt from Primark.

 

No.  That's not at all bizarre.  People are always contradictory and inconsistent.  It's more bizarre to try to make a political point out of it.  t's almost impossible in the modern world to make every purchase ethically and those who pretend that it's an obligation before one is allowed to have an opinion are those who would prefer to create a situation where no-one is permitted to opine on anything.

Anonymous 04 March 21 15:02

Anonymous 03 March 21 08:29

Religious person: "you are racist and discriminate against me and my religion".

Also religious person: "my children are not allowed to marry anyone outside my religion, else my family and community will disown them."

These arbitrary scenarios pulled out of your bottom are not the great debating points that you suppose.  This is not twitter or the pub and you audience has some experience of critical thinking.

Someone somewhere 04 March 21 19:31

Lots of white people have the best of intentions but put their foot in it without realising the implications. I sincerely hope that we don’t get to a point where we can’t have any dialogue in fear of saying the wrong thing or using the wrong terminology. 

Orwell 04 March 21 20:36

Colourblind, did you bother to read everything Monty wrote about her experience? Or the other people of colour?

As for bring colourblind not being a thing, you are essentially saying that all people are born racist. As someone said above, racism is learned.

Anonymous 04 March 21 21:46

By the way, since when have we been seeking to overturn the dominant cultural norm of being nice and extremely polite

 

Probably around the same time we decided it was ok to label those who are genuinely concerned with equality as "woken". HTH

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