It’s the speech that has the world buzzing. The video of Oprah Winfrey receiving the Cecil B. de Mille Award at the Golden Globes was the #1 trending video on YouTube. But why is it striking such a chord with so many?
I believe it is, in part, due to a shared experience of those of us who have experienced marginalization in its many and pervasive forms. When she describes herself as a child, watching Sidney Poitier receive the same award, it is easy to nod along. It is that same feeling of validation when you see authentic representations of yourself in media. It is that inexplicable shared pride when others in your community are successfully living their dreams. It is the small victories and social movements that move conversations forward.
Oprah nails what diversity and representation means to those of us in the “cheap seats”. It alleviates the sense of isolation of imposter syndrome. This is the perception that you are inadequate and unworthy, followed by the nagging feeling that you’re a fraud, you don’t belong, and everyone knows your secret. Imposter syndrome causes an internal personal struggle against attributing your achievements to merit, dedication, and hard work. Add that to an outside battle against stereotypes, misperceptions, and tokenism surrounding equity initiatives and you’ve got a perfect storm for self-doubt.
Oprah says that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool you have. However, she also highlights why it is perfectly normal to be scared of the risk in telling your story. It’s the burden of “children to feed, bills to pay” and I would add, the expectations of others. “Dreams to pursue” aren’t purely individualistic, they are often culmination of sacrifice and dreams of loved ones as well.
Oprah’s speech highlighted how the need for empowerment and to speak up presents itself across every industry, including our own legal profession. In our profession we reinforce the us vs. them mentality with talk of the ‘client as the enemy’ and the disdainful ‘non-lawyer’ designation. If we want diversity and equity to thrive, the response must be more than lip service. These movements and conversations are a call to action for leadership. It requires those in a position of power to listen to marginalized groups and to create space to have their voices amplified. In my experience, this form of allyship is the most authentic and it creates valuable progress in diversity.
As part of our vision at Aspire, we are working on a practice that emphasizes the inherent value of all the voices at our table. In our workplace, we encourage collaboration and recognize that each member of our team has a unique view and insight on our projects. With our clients, we listen to their input, insights, and seek to understand what they want to achieve for themselves and their family beyond the outcome of a specific legal issue. Whether we call it client-centric, collaborative, or speaking our truth, the fundamental belief is that we all win when we work together as equals.
Has Oprah’s speech miraculously launched us into that new day on the horizon? While her influence is undeniable, change still feels incremental. However, I maintain hope for a brighter morning even when sometimes it still feels like the darkest night.