Starting on the 2nd July 2018, the Bar Council launched a week-long social mobility campaign on Twitter. Using the hashtag #IAmTheBar, they sought to highlight the non-traditional journeys to the Bar of their Social Mobility Advocates. The hashtag caught on and for a week my Twitter was flooded with barristers sharing their journeys to the Bar from non-traditional backgrounds. As a first generation African Immigrant aspiring to become a barrister, #IAmTheBar is so much more than a hashtag.
Context: What does ‘non-traditional background’ mean?
Sometimes words and phrases become used so often that it is assumed that everyone understands their meaning. The Bar has traditionally been dominated by people from a similar socio-economic background, similar education and similar gender. The typical barrister has traditionally been white, male, Oxbridge educated and from a privileged socio-economic background. Thankfully, over many years the Bar has opened itself up and there is more diversity in the Bar today than before.
Where a barrister refers to themselves as coming from a ‘non-traditional’ background, they mean that they do not come from the historically traditional background of a barrister. Quite often they were the first in their family to attend university, came from the type of socio-economic background that made financing their journey to the Bar difficult, came to the Bar through a non-traditional route or are a single parent who pursued the Bar as a second career.
There is no one set way one can be from a ‘non-traditional’ background which is the entire point. There is no ‘right’ way to be non-traditional, your circumstances are unique to yourself. The principle behind the campaign is to show that no matter the obstacles your background throws at you, it is possible to overcome them and reach a career at the Bar.
#IAmTheBar came at a perfect time – being an immigrant in ‘hostile environment Britain’ can be alienating
I grew up in England but was born elsewhere (in Gaborone, Botswana to be exact!). Nearly everyday media outlets constantly run headlines proclaiming that the country is ‘overrun’ with immigrants and morning breakfast shows host people who stress how we must ‘take back control’ of the borders otherwise more people like me and my family “might get in”.
Almost every facet of what I would call ‘hostile environment Britain’ – used here to reflect the xenophobia present within contemporary British social/political discourse – is telling black and minority ethnicity immigrants and their children that they are not welcome in this country. It’s humiliating and alienating. There are many times where being an immigrant to Britain in 2018 is more than disheartening. The apparent rejection hurts.
Resisting division, promoting inclusion
Yet, despite all of this divisive and alienating rhetoric in wider society, the Bar is pressing forward with its mission to ensure that it is as inclusive and diverse a profession as possible. Working against the stereotypes of barristers, the #IAmTheBar campaign aims to lift the lid on the Bar and show that barristers from *all* walks of life have made it. #IAmTheBar is evidently far more than a hashtag and by no means a token ‘diversity’ campaign. It is a show of pride as much as it is barristers from all stages of their career recounting their journey to the Bar from non-traditional backgrounds and emphatically stating “I am HERE!”
The Bar Council explained the campaign:
On Twitter, we asked members of the Bar to share their journeys to the Bar, and the obstacles they overcame to reach it, using the hashtag #IAmTheBar.
Through the use of this particular hashtag, we seek to dispel any myths or preconceptions that, to succeed as barrister, you must fit a certain profile or come from a particular background. These non-traditional stories and personal quotes help to exemplify a common vision of an accessible, diverse and truly representative Bar.
Search #IAmTheBar on Twitter to find more stories of inspiring, non-traditional journeys to the Bar.
Chambers are clearly proud to have such amazing women and men who’ve overcome the sorts of challenges and hurdles one faces when aspiring to the Bar from a non-traditional background within their ranks. For the aspiring barristers looking in, the campaign has an extremely powerful effect. It allows you to feel the reassurance that you are not alone. Others have come from the same or similar backgrounds as you, faced the same or similar hardships and emerged on the other side. It tells you that the Bar is for you and you don’t have to feel alienated or as if you don’t belong.
The message is clear: The Bar is for everyone
Against the backdrop of what I can only describe as a regressive return to the type of politics that has led people to take to the streets and march, reading all of the stories under the #IAmTheBar hashtag and seeing Chambers proudly retweet them has been extremely powerful. Chambers have also made it whilst explicitly clear that they welcome applications from everyone.
The campaign came at the same time as my inn, The Inner Temple, officially raised the Pride flag upon their roof to show their absolute commitment to LGBT+ representation and visibility at the Bar this Pride:
Greg Dorey CVO, Sub-Treasurer (CEO) of the Inner Temple:
“Today, we send a strong signal to those thinking of becoming a barrister and those who are already members. The Inner Temple stands with you, no matter your background or identity. The Inns of Court are a place of inclusion and are working to make the profession inclusive for everyone”
#IAmTheBar encourages me to be confident in myself
When I saw the #IAmTheBar campaign I felt the kind of comfort and ease that breeds confidence. Confidence that I chose the right profession to pursue and confidence that when my time comes neither my race, nationality or gender is going to stop me from doing the work that I love.
Until next time,