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  • Writer's pictureArjun Gananathan

Experience as a Black Barrister

When Benjamin Aina first arrived in Woolverstone Hall, a state-run boarding school just south of Ipswich, he immediately noticed that among a group of 360 boys, he was the only student of color. Aina was raised in the Black community of London, the son of African immigrants. Like many other minorities, Aina encountered a great deal of prejudice, even at a young age. During his first semester at Woolverstone Hall, at only 11 years of age, Aina was bullied for the color of his skin. Upon hearing of the situation, Aina’s mother traveled to the school to bring him home. Aina refused to leave, determined to confront and overcome the bullying. Consequently, Aina formed a strong sense of self-conviction, stubbornness, and grit.

Like many other minorities, Aina encountered a great deal of prejudice, even at a young age. Source: Unsplash photos

Aina first began practice in chambers, most Black attorneys in the workforce were immigrants from the Caribbean, who spoke with a thick accent. The profession had rarely come across Black barristers born and raised in the United Kingdom. As such, Aina described being largely accepted by his colleagues “for all intents and purposes, as a White person with Black skin.” Nonetheless, Aina explained that he was treated respectfully in chambers. Despite looking different, he was valued first and foremost as a competent British barrister.

Among the judiciary, however, Aina encountered much more racism, though it was not readily apparent to him at the time. Instead, he simply recalled many “rude” characters. Rather than disregard or downplay their behavior, Aina chose to challenge their assumptions, and speak back. As a young boy at Woolverstone Hall, he had learned to rely on his tenacity and self-assurance. He did so yet again in the courts, to the surprise of many judges. On one instance, Aina recounted, he was involved in a standing row with a judge, who eventually became so incensed with Aina’s defiance that he stood up and left.

Aina explains that only his proficiency and acumen as a barrister saved him from being “cut down by the establishment.” The same judge who had previously walked out on Aina, for instance, was much more courteous after Aina had appealed and reversed one of his decisions. Yet for all of Aina’s success and status today, it is evident that he is ever cognizant of the systemic barriers that face young barristers of color trying to navigate the legal profession.

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