MoFo Perspectives Podcast
In the fifth and final episode of the Wetmore Fellow subseries, and in celebration of Black History Month, Los Angeles Corporate Associate and Fellow alumna Gina Banks hosts a discussion with San Francisco Litigation partner and Co-Chair of MoFo’s Global Employment & Labor Group Eric Akira Tate, and Washington D.C. IP Litigation partner, Diversity Strategy Committee Co-Chair and Co-Chair of MoFo’s Global IP Litigation Practice Mark Whitaker. The discussion centers around the firm’s longstanding commitment to combatting discrimination and injustice, how the impact of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests it sparked across the world served as a call to action, and the myriad ways in which the firm answered that call. Eric and Mark also share their personal stories about the responsibility they felt not only as Black men, but as leaders of a firm dedicated to equity and inclusion, to actively engage in dialogue around racial equity.
Speaker: Welcome to MoFo Perspectives, a podcast by Morrison & Foerster, where we share the perspectives of our clients, colleagues, subject matter experts, and lawyers.
Ayanna Ryans-Holder: Welcome to the Diversity in Practice Podcast, a part of MoFo Perspectives. My name is Ayanna Ryans-Holder, and I am the attorney Diversity and Inclusion specialist at MoFo. I manage and coordinate our inclusive recruiting initiatives. In my role, I oversee the Wetmore Fellowship for excellence, diversity, and inclusion. In this episode of the fellow subseries, Navigating Pandemic and Protests, fellow alumna, Gina Banks, a corporate associate in our Los Angeles office, welcomes Eric Akira Tate, a litigation partner in our San Francisco office, and Mark Whitaker, an IP litigation partner in our Washington D.C. office.
Gina Banks: Hi, my name is Gina Banks, and I’m a corporate associate in our Los Angeles office. I’m excited to be hosting the fifth and final episode of the five-part series Navigating Pandemic and Protest. By way of background, I’m a former Wetmore fellow who joined the firm in 2018. Like many of you listening, I spent the majority of 2020 trying to grapple with everything that was going on in our nation and our world. As a black woman, I’m no stranger to discrimination, but the killings that took place last summer, coupled with the pandemic, often felt like too much to bare. To help process all this, I spent a lot of time talking with my friends and family about their experiences and ways we could support each other. So I’m excited to have today’s conversation with Eric Akira Tate, the co-chair of MoFo’s global Employment and Labor group and a litigation partner in our San Francisco, and Mark Whitaker, co-chair of our global IP Litigation practice, co-chair of our firm’s Diversity Strategy Committee, and an IP litigation partner in our D.C. office. Eric, Mark, welcome to the podcast.
Eric Akira Tate: Hi. Happy to be here.
Mark Whitaker: Thank you, Gina.
Gina Banks: So Eric, if we could start with you, you’ve spent the entirety of your career here at MoFo, joining the firm as a first-year associate immediately after graduating from law school. Can you tell us a little bit about what drew you to MoFo, how you transitioned into your current role as co-chair of the Employment and Labor group, and what keeps you here?
Eric Akira Tate: Sure, Gina. So, MoFo had everything I was looking at in a law firm when I was coming out of school: top-notch practices in all the major business centers around the world, great training opportunities, seller reputation, all that kind of stuff that was MoFo. And it was just a wonderful place. But I have to say that ultimately what drew me to MoFo and has kept me here probably all these years is the people. And just briefly, I had a mentor partner who was a managing partner of the office in Palo Alto, where I started. His name is Tom Wilson and a middle-aged white male. And who I recall he had to cut my callback interview short by a few minutes because he had to leave the office to attend his son’s music recital. There was another white male partner at the time, and his name is Pat Flynn.
Eric Akira Tate: And this is also during my callback round of interviews. And I mentioned at that time I had some concern about who would serve as a mentor for me if I joined the firm because I didn’t see a bunch of folks who look like me, and he responded, literally “I will be your mentor.” And there were a number of female associates in my group in Palo Alto. All of them were senior to me, amazingly talented. And they were all raising families while doing these really arduous jobs, and they helped to train me and show me what it took to be successful. So I really have come to appreciate the people that I work with at the firm. And I found over the years in talking to other people, because I’ve only been at one firm, that more so than other firms, one’s more likely to find those types of people that I describe as opposed to the typical yellers and screamers that folks would associate with big law firms. And so in terms of transitioning to the leadership role in my group, it was the fact that my senior people in the group retired and I became one of the more senior people and was asked to step up to help lead the group. And for me, it’s important to help be in a role that I can mentor other junior attorneys and also to help steer the direction of the practice group.
Gina Banks: Thank you, Eric. That is really insightful information. I think something that I, even though I’ve only been here three years, can agree with the people at are awesome and really invested in mentorship, invested in making sure that whatever it is you’re setting out to accomplish as an associate or a partner or a leader of a department that you’re able to do. So Mark, unlike Eric, you joined the firm as a lateral attorney in 2016. Prior to transitioning to big law, you served as a U.S. Naval officer for over a decade, including as a member of the Navy’s judge advocate general corps. Would you tell us a bit about what prompted you to trade military service for private practice, your career trajectory after leaving the Navy, and why you chose MoFo?
Mark Whitaker: Well, thanks Gina for that question. After spending a couple of years, 28 months onboard, a surface war ship in the Navy as a surface warfare officer, couple of deployments to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, I had an opportunity to take up the Navy on one of its great deals, and that is as the law education program. And I was selected for it, attended law school, and did my payback as a Navy JAG. And that Navy JAG training was fabulous because it put me in a courtroom 30 times, 30 trials, over a two-and-a-half-year period of time. And I really got to get some nuts and bolts training, but my real passion was outside of the Navy and practicing in the civilian workforce. And so after doing my payback with the Navy, I decided to venture out and I was in Washington DC with my family and went into private practice in a firm in the city. After spending a little bit of time doing commercial litigation, I was introduced to intellectual property through a patent case. And I realized that all of that training that I had in the Navy, engineering training, technical training, I could use that as an attorney and practice in the IP world. And so that was really special to me, and that sort of launched me on a fairly circuitous route through a couple of law firms and then onto MoFo. And one of the reasons why I joined MoFo is that over the years, and I’ve been practicing for over 30 now, I had gotten to know MoFo and some of the folks who practice here, including Brian Busey and others, and had a great deal of respect for the litigation prowess that the firm had and was enticed by Brian and others to talk with more folks and join. And it was a great decision because MoFo, in the IP community, is a top star, and the folks that I’ve been working with are absolutely at the top of the game. And so that’s really what drew me to the firm and has really been exciting for me in my practice since joining five years ago.
Gina Banks: Wow, first off, thank you for your service, Mark. My brother is in the Navy and so I know the sacrifices that go into being into the military. So I appreciate it. And also appreciate your time at MoFo. It’s definitely been interesting hearing about your story and just seeing your trajectory from different firms to here and your service within the firm, as well. So, in addition to being busy partners with demanding clients and other non-billable commitments, you and Eric both also lead your respective practice groups. Despite that, Eric, you formally served as co-chair of the firm’s Diversity Strategy committee and remain a very active member. And Mark, you are one of the current co-chairs of that committee. Why do you feel it is important for you to be engaged in the firm’s D&I initiatives? Eric, you can go ahead and start first.
Eric Akira Tate: Sure. Thanks, Gina. So there’s a ton of reasons, but I’ll just try to hit a few of them. For me, I’d say start off paying it back. So I know throughout my career, others in the past have stepped up to do things, to support me both directly and indirectly. And I think this is one of those sense of responsibility and obligation. I think I feel to try to make things better for those who are coming after me at the firm. Frankly, if there’s a kind word here or there’s helping to put forth an initiative there, something that I can, in small part, do that will positively affect even one person, then I think it’s not only my duty, but I think it’s worth it. And frankly, who knows what that person may go on to do and probably do more to help more people than I could ever do.
Eric Akira Tate: I’d also say that I feel that this is my law firm too, and it’s just not because I’ve been here for a while. Personally, I am more comfortable working in a more diverse and inclusive work environment. So if I have the capability to help that to fruition, then it’s incumbent on me to try to do it. And I also appreciate that what we do with the firm has meaning beyond just MoFo and beyond the law. I know that my personal achievements are not just about me and what I do, in some small way matters to other people, people of color, other people just outside of the firm. And I sometimes think about my dad who was born and raised in a small town in the deep segregated south and his town literally was the county seat for Robert E. Lee county, and I think about what opportunities he and others of my family did not have. And I appreciate that while I worked hard and scrapped, I’ve been fortunate because doors have been opened, whether wide open or cracked open doesn’t really matter, but doors that were slammed shut to him and others of his generation. So I have an appreciation, I think. Probably not enough, but I do appreciate and try to think about the situation I’m in now in trying to do the best that I can with it. Mark?
Mark Whitaker: Yeah. So thanks, Eric. And this is a great question. I’ve been involved in diversity activities my entire professional career. So starting back in the Navy, and I’ll hearken back to those days for a bit. At the time that I joined the Navy, the only 1.2% of the officer core was black. Just 1.2%. And I was the first black officer on my ship and I was just an ensign at that time. That experience, along with learning how to manage a group of primarily white sailors in different divisions onboard that ship, really shaped my knowledge of not just management and personnel management, but also the reactions that I received when giving orders to people who had never been given an order by someone who is black. And so I peel forward and it’s important to me, very important to me that we make our firm look like and work like America. It’s important to our clients. And it’s important to each other, fostering a workplace, as Eric said, that is comfortable and encourages diverse ideas truly in yours to the benefit of everyone, whether they know it or not. And some of them, many of them, don’t know it. So that’s why I’m very pleased and happy that the firm invited me to become a chair of the DSC and be involved in D&I initiatives.
Gina Banks: Mark, your father, the Reverend Dr. Arthur L. Whitaker, was a contemporary and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, as well as an army veteran and an ordained Baptist minister and activist who worked tirelessly for racial equality. So you were raised in the midst of the civil rights era. Today, you are a partner at a major international law firm who has proudly served his country. Many would say that as a black man in America, you have defied the odds and now have a seat at the table. How might you respond to that? And how has your life experience informed your thoughts on racial justice, equity, and inclusion, particularly in a profession that lags behind most others with respect to diversity?
Mark Whitaker: Thanks again for that question, Gina. It’s an interesting one. There’s a jazz artist by the name of Robert Glasper, and he wrote a piece called Got Over, and he had the great Harry Belafonte speak during the course of the beginning of that piece. And Harry Belafonte said something that rings true, I think for me, and that is, in the lyrics, he said, “He’s one of the ones of color who got over,” and that’s really kind of it. There was a great deal and has been a great deal of angst over the course of my life and many things that I got to see, especially during the civil rights era. I can remember many, many nights where my dad, when I was a young child, got up in the middle of the night, especially during the riots in 1965, and he either had to go down to the church or go down to the police station because someone in the congregation or their son or daughter or worse, they were either incarcerated or they were in a hospital.
Mark Whitaker: And so those things had a profound impact on my view of racial justice and inclusion. And when we say that I now have a seat at the table, that’s an interesting thing to me because my upbringing was one that was rooted in humility and understanding and appreciation for history. So I have always remembered those humble beginnings. I didn’t grow up in a family that had a lot of means. My dad, as a Baptist minister, didn’t make a whole lot of money. He taught on the side as a college professor to sort of make ends meet, and that’s how we got by. But I know that certain doors over the course of my life have been open to me, but recognize, and remember, always remember, that those same doors don’t open for everyone else, especially people of color, people who look like me. So when I say I have a seat at the table now, that seat, in part, is to affect appropriate change to encourage others to open doors. People who have the means to open those doors for people who look like me. And so that is probably the best way for me to state where I see myself and where I see some of the advances and the fortuity that I’ve been given in life.
Gina Banks: That’s very insightful. I often think of being in the law, being a black woman in the law and how sometimes when people look at me, they can think this is representative of the profession because I have made it, others like me have made it. And that always isn’t the case, as you pointed out. Just because one of us has a seat at the table doesn’t mean that there are any other seats being prepared for others who look like us unless we are actively working to make sure that we can create room for them. So I appreciate that. Eric, you identify as both black and Asian and actively support and advocate for both communities. The killing of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Amad Arbery, and many others took place in the midst of a pandemic, which in addition to having a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable communities, also unleashed a virtual tsunami of racist xenophobia, targeting Asians and Asians Americans. How do you maintain a sense of balance and wellbeing while continuing to serve your clients, the firm, and the associates who look to you for guidance? Can you speak to how challenging the last few months have been?
Eric Akira Tate: Well, that’s a lot, Gina. Sure. But I’ll just start off by of saying to be honest, it has not been easy. And I guess at the end of the day, you do it because you have to do it. And that’s what we’re here for. We get paid for. We have to do it and you get by, but it certainly is not easy. I’ll say that I am very proud of my multiple heritages. I still think America is the best country in the world, but it’s far from perfect. And my family’s sort of backgrounds, obviously being partial of African American and the atrocities that have been waged against us throughout American history. And then also my Japanese side, America has not been kind to either over history. So I think that a lot of people bring unique experiences and perspectives to their everyday existence. And the recent events of the last several months are certainly the case that happens, too. As a partner and a partner of color and a more senior person at the firm, there’s a responsibility to make sure that more junior attorneys, the staff, everyone else is doing okay.
Eric Akira Tate: We reached a certain level and there are things that we can do to help, but at the same time, we’re normal people, too. And I was definitely shaken to my core in a very real way. These events obviously serve as a wake-up call to remind you, and this is not the nicest comment, but I believe it and I feel it, that for me, no matter what degrees I’ve obtained, I’m a partner at this firm, big law firm, that whatever, how much money you make, where you live, at the end of the day for a significant part of the country, I’m still an N-word. And it’s the wake-up call that happens from time to time. And this is the most recent one. And I am emotionally personally affected just like everyone else, regardless of the title in my name. And you mentioned balance and wellbeing.
Eric Akira Tate: Well, one of the things I’m very proud of is being a member of our firm’s support group for parents. And I’ll tell you, I’ve got a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old who we’ve been remote schooling for the last nine months. And while I feel blessed to have the time with them, that is not easy, either. So the notion of balance I kind of chuckle at because there is no balance. We’re just trying to survive. So yes, has it been challenging? It has been challenging, but I think as I mentioned, nonetheless, we definitely feel blessed that we are in this situation. We appreciate that there are a lot of people around the country and around the world who have it much more tough than we do. But as a partner at the firm, I think it’s important that we still step up to try to provide support to other people, other associates, staff, et cetera, in any way we can.
Gina Banks: Thank you for sharing, Eric. I definitely remember towards the beginning of this earlier in the summer, we kind of had an informal zoom meeting that you were a part of and I ended up being able to join, and we had a chance to talk just about how we collectively felt as black associates within the firm, about everything that was going on and just the burdens that we were carrying and having to still show up for work and understanding the importance of our job and the commitments we have to clients, but also trying to grapple with the world burning down around us. And I think I mentioned during that call, what was hardest for me and kind of most heart-wrenching was the fact that so many people that I know and interact with regularly who are not black or a minority, they just, for the first time, really felt the weight of this.
Gina Banks: And recognizing that there are people who get to live their lives unburdened by this. I have to kind of carry all of this constantly. It was just particularly difficult. And so I remember that conversation with you was very helpful to myself and the other associates that were on the line. A lot of us spoke after the fact and were very heartened that you were on there and able to be transparent and just very honest about no matter what senior position you have, this is still difficult and still impacts you. So let’s delve a little bit deeper into today’s topic. On Monday, June 1, 2020, firm chair, Larren Nashelsky, wrote to all MoFo attorneys and staff about the shocking televised murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. While MoFo has long been committed to serving members of our community who face discrimination and injustice, George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protest it spurred across the world—
Gina Banks: —served as a call to action for many. The firm’s response was immediate and encompassed a myriad of internal and external efforts, many of which we have discussed in previous episodes of this subseries. Mark, almost immediately after Larren’s statement went out, you followed up with your own message on behalf of the Diversity Strategy Committee. I’d like to read an excerpt from it wherein you said “The police brutality that we witnessed last week that ended in the death of George Floyd is merely symptomatic of a much deeper set of problems: entitlement, superiority, indifference, and utter inhumanity towards black human life and dignity. These lay at the heart of America’s struggle with systemic racism.” Can you tell us a bit about why you felt compelled to compose that message and how it was received?
Mark Whitaker: Sure, Gina. Back in 1965, ‘66, after those riots, my dad had the opportunity to write a piece. It was called Anatomy of a Riot, and it’s part of the congressional record. And in it, he talked about what caused black people to riot. Some of it was despair. Some of it was their economic condition. Some of it was the racism that was evident in the police brutality of the day. And so I sort of reflected and thought that much change has occurred over the decades. Much good has occurred, but much has stayed the same. And the question is why. Why have these things stayed the same? Why are black people still suffering the same condition when it comes to law enforcement and other aspects of American life? And these four things came to mind: the deeper set of problems, a sense of entitlement, superiority, indifference, and utter inhumanity.
Mark Whitaker: And they can be summed up in really two words, the same two words that were uttered just the other day by President Biden when he was inaugurated, and that is white supremacy. It is a part of the fabric of this nation of America. And it is a part of all that we do, whether it is in economics, education, work, financial, everything. And it is a part of our system that we as black people have been struggling for 400 years to understand. That’s why I wrote those words, and I think it’s important for us to look at them separately, ask the question why, and try to figure out how we bridge the gaps of knowledge. I think that white supremacy actually is not just an economic thing, not just a psychological thing. It is something born from gaps, voids in our knowledge, our education, our appreciation for culture. And so until we’re able to grapple with it, until we’re able to deal with those concepts, I think that while much has changed and people like Eric and I and yourself have achieved some notoriety, some economic rewards, much still must be changed for equality and equity to really prevail in the country. So that’s why I wrote them.
Gina Banks: Thank you. I definitely appreciate the simplicity of your statement, and despite its simplicity, it’s so profound. And I think what I noticed most about it when I was reading it was the word “indifference.” And I think oftentimes when I’ve spoken to people about this incomprehensible thing called racism and the effects that it has on people of color, I often just tell them there’s so many things that we learn to empathize with that we’ve never experienced and hopefully we’ll never experience, such as losing a parent or losing a child. But if you come across someone who has experienced something that’s that tragic, you’re able to relate to them and empathize. And so I think that indifference, that word for me really struck me because it reminded me that it is a choice. If people choose to care, they can, but if they don’t, they’ll continue to be indifferent and they’ll continue to look past this or just kind of sideline this issue as something that’s too big, too insurmountable, or whatever other excuses they can come up with.
Gina Banks: But that word, just to me, conveyed a lot of agency to people to be able to make a change if they want to. So Eric, I have another question for you. Not long after Mark’s message went out on behalf of the DSC, MoFo’s black partners met to discuss ways in which they could respond to the hurt, uncertainty, and trauma felt by the firm’s black associates and staff. You and Mark were at the forefront of that movement. Can you provide some insight into why it is so crucial to gather the black partners to take the lead on the effort and any meaningful change you saw or experienced as a result?
Eric Akira Tate: Sure, Gina. So, as black partners, however we’ve done it, we’ve achieved something at the firm. We’ve achieved some level of success, and I think we have a responsibility to help others. And I think it’s important that we use whatever tools that we have to help others. And it also is a thing where people look to you. It’s been a while, but I remember when I was an associate, and you do look to the leaders of the firm for guidance and support, et cetera. And it’s something that we have an obligation to do. And again, there’s a personal interest in it as well because we are all—we are together. We are all black attorneys, attorneys of color at the firm, and it’s important, I think, that we support each other and trying to think about what we might do and thinking about how I felt, and I knew how I felt.
Eric Akira Tate: And I can imagine if I’m feeling this way, then others probably are feeling similarly or even more deeply. So just trying to think about what might we do to be of use and thinking about working with our D&I team, whose job it is to really focus on these things, and just trying to think of what things could we do to provide that support. And we had black affinity group network meetings. We brought in a facilitator, Terry Winston of Next Step Partners, to help facilitate and help talk to us and help talk through their feelings and what they were going through. So there were a number of things that we ultimately did, but in terms of just the why, again, we’re all in this together. There are more of us than there were when I started, but there still aren’t a ton. And being at a big law firm is hard enough when you layer on that the fact that you be a person of color, or even black attorney, when there’s fewer numbers, and then you layer on to it the events of the last nine months, these sort of just attacks on folks. It’s just a very hard place to be. So it’s one of those things where, when things like this happen, you definitely want to rally around each other to try to support each other the best you can.
Gina Banks: So in addition to the black affinity network meeting, which resulted in the rollout of firm‑wide trainings on how to become a more effective ally, an engagement committee was formed that focused on legal services to support racial justice, charitable donations, community action, and education. Various tools and resources were created for the MoFo family and clients to better equip them to speak on and participate in our racial justice initiatives, which included the creation of an anti‑racism toolkit, updates on how to respond to racial injustice, an Allyship is Action campaign, an allyship tipsheet, and the 21-day racial equity habit-building challenge. So staying with you for a moment, Eric, you were integral in introducing the 21-day challenge and encouraging leadership to participate in it. Lawyers and staff firmwide participated in the challenge, and over 300 attended the 12 discussion sessions hosted by the diversity and inclusion group over the course of the 21 days. What inspired you to present the idea of the challenge, and what did you hope would be the outcome? Did the reality of it meet your expectation?
Eric Akira Tate: Thanks, Gina. So the 21-day challenge, I served on this thing called the council at the American Bar Association, Labor Employment Section, sort of like a board of governors. And we had a meeting, I think it was the day after George Floyd. And one of my colleagues, actually a Caucasian female attorney and fellow council member, mentioned at the meeting this 21-day challenge, as we were thinking about what we might be able to do to support the section. And after that, I corresponded with her, talked to her right after the meeting and said, well, I had not heard of it. What is this? She explained it. And I was just thinking, wow, that’s actually something concrete. Because I will admit that I looked at the George Floyd and I’ll fill in the name. Unfortunately there’s too many, and things seem to happen year after year after year and not much change happened.
Eric Akira Tate: So I was a little skeptical. It seems to be people are paying attention to this, but then what’s going to happen is this is going to die down and nothing’s ever going to change. And so when I was thinking about this 21-day challenge, well, if there is going to be any sort of lasting change, what has to happen to have that happen? And I was thinking, well, maybe you have to have education. And people just really having open conversation. You’re not going to necessarily change everybody’s mind, but at least if folks will understand better where people are coming from, maybe there can be more constructive dialogue, and maybe, at some point, that will lead to lasting change. And so I thought about that, and the 21-day challenge seemed to me something that was concrete, specific, and that might be one of the tools that could get things moving in the right direction. And I mentioned it to—we had the black partners got together, mentioned it to them and ended up mentioning it to Larren and presenting that to executive management of the firm, and to Larren’s credit, I don’t know how many words came out of my mouth, it wasn’t very many, and he said, “We’re doing it.” That was actually very, very good to hear the leadership really just taking something like that on then adopting it. So that’s sort of where that all came from.
Gina Banks: Thank you. I was able to participate in—unfortunately not the whole 21 days, but a few of the sessions and I do still have the calendar of everything to do in the books. And I was able to share that with a lot of my friends, both within the community, from my law school, as well as just personal communities and circles that I spend time within for people that ask me about it, who are people of color and people who weren’t just to be able to kind of have one resource that they could share with other people who ask them about it, as well as things that they could use to educate themselves. So I found it to be something that was very valuable and I appreciated that the things that were suggested over the course of the 21 days weren’t very PC. As I was nervous about when I first saw the announcement of the program, I was like, how far are we going to go?
Gina Banks: How far are we going to push people? And I felt like the program really did challenge people to think critically about the ideas that they hold and the things that they can advocate for in the future. And so I did really appreciate it and thought that it was very valuable. So if we can go back to you, Mark, for a bit, the impact of our response to racial injustice was not limited to the United States or the firm. In August, you co-presented with Rick Banks, Stanford law professor and co-founder and director of Stanford’s new center for racial justice, a special program for our Asia offices examining the history of the black community and its experience of racism in the U.S. In addition, at the request of several of our clients and in collaboration with the Diversity and Inclusion group led by then-director Natalie Kernisant, client versions of several of our anti-racism tools and resources, including the 21-day challenge we just spoke about with Eric, were created and shared. What, if anything, does this, as well as Natalie’s elevation to Chief Diversity and Inclusion officer signify about the importance of the firm’s stance on racial injustice and our continued commitment to diversity and inclusion?
Mark Whitaker: Sure, Gina. Thanks for the question. Several, several things. First, let me just, again, congratulate Natalie and the firm for its vision in elevating her to the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer position. That CDIO position is a public-facing one, not just an internal-facing one. And it is indeed important for us to have that face and someone who is grounded knowledge of diversity and inclusion matters, who has a well-rounded understanding of the impacts across the board to all groups within and all affinity groups within the firm. It’s important for that person and for the public to see her and our clients to see our work and our ability to partner with them for change. Informing our partners and associates throughout the world, as we did with Rick Banks and also in the programs in the Asian offices and also Berlin office, is important because there has to be an understanding and they are looking for an understanding as to how America, this beacon of light, of freedom, can on the one hand be so gracious and so giving, yet at the same time to a small group or smaller group of people within its midst, just not be so, and so it’s important for them to see that. It’s important for them to understand it and filling those voids in education—
Mark Whitaker: As Eric indicated, through the 21-day challenge and discussions that we had, that really is critically important to correct educational deficiencies that we all have. Correct a lack of knowledge of cultural differences that we all have. And at bottom, really reach toward that goal of leading all of us to understand that while we are different and have differences, we also are very much the same, and the work of the CDIO of Natalie, the work with our clients, within our firm internally, with partners, associates, and staff, that’ll help us get to that place.
Gina Banks: Switching gears a bit, I think it’s safe to say that another crucial and likely more important and probably nearer to your heart role that both of you play is that of parent. One of our most well‑attended and highly rated racial injustice resources was our series on how to talk to your kids about race. Mark, your formative years were spent watching your father fight for civil rights. And Eric, in your Allyship in Action video, you stated that you wanted your kid’s first and chief influences about race to come from you and your wife. As the extraordinarily tumultuous year that was 2020 came to a close, we learned the U.S. Department of Justice, following a 2015 decision by a grand jury not to indict, has declined to bring federal criminal charges against the then-Cleveland police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014. Mark, how do you encourage your children to embrace their unique identities while also teaching them to navigate a world that is far too often not only unappreciative of their differences, but as we have tragically seen, sometimes dangerously opposed to them?
Mark Whitaker: Yeah. Sure. Thank you so much for that question, as well. Well, my kids are no longer what I would call kids. They’re a little bit older now. Both of them live and work in California, but we still have these discussions, and they center around more about their work, their activities, or interpersonal relationships with colleagues, and their activities around the community. We talk about interacting with law enforcement. I especially have these discussions with my son still, who’s now 30, but the thing that I’ve always taught them is what I was taught. Always show integrity, and also show your intelligence to law enforcement officers, but always, always, always, as we learn in the Navy, follow orders. If you’re ordered to do something, follow it, and we can redress any inappropriate acts the next day. Stay safe. So in leading by example, these are things that I’ve tried to teach both of my children, and I think that they’ve learned those lessons well, and I can see by their outward activities and how they interact with people that those lessons were well learned.
Gina Banks: Eric, do you have any insights that you would like to provide about how you’re navigating this with your children?
Eric Akira Tate: So my kids are at the other end of the spectrum from Mark’s. Mine are on the younger end: first grade and third grade. I got a little boy and his older sister. And this is an interesting time to be asking this question, actually. So we have not yet had the quote unquote “talk” with them. And I don’t know, as long as we’re still remote, I probably won’t, but it’s something that I think about a lot and how to do it. So taking some notes from hearing Mark’s comments actually, but I think it’s hard to escape what’s going on in the world, so you want to be honest with them about what’s going on, but also not scare them and not sour them on American society in the world. So we try to have discussions with them about what happens and what’s going on.
Eric Akira Tate: We talk with their teachers. We make sure that we are aware of what the discussions are going on in school with the kids. And we try to do it in a way that is child appropriate, but frankly, we err more on the side of sometimes brutal honesty, because that’s just what is going on right now. One of the things that we try to do is to talk to them about what and who they are because they’re African American and Japanese for me and they’re Danish and Chinese for my wife. And so that’s something that we talk to them about to make sure that they’re aware of their various backgrounds, and we try to teach them as much about them as possible so that they have an understanding of who they are and also an appreciation and hopefully a pride in who they are.
Gina Banks: Thank you, Eric. So as we’re coming to a close, we can’t end without taking a few moments to address the events of January 6th. For many, particularly people of color and their allies, the insurrection at the capital highlighted once again, some of the huge racial disparities that have existed in this country since its founding and that unfortunately continue to persist in America today. Many of these disparities were brought to the forefront in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and illustrate what is often referred to as white privilege in America. Despite repeated warnings from the FBI and other national security agencies, the preparation by capital police appeared grossly inadequate, especially when compared to law enforcement’s presence at the Black Lives Matter marches last summer. More specifically, reports indicate that only about 60 rioters were arrested on January 6, 2021, while nearly the same number of police officers were injured, including one officer who was killed along with one of the insurgents.
Gina Banks: However, on June 1, 2020, in Washington, D.C., nearly 6,000 law enforcement officers ranging from ICE to DEA, including national guard helicopters, were mobilized to descend on the area for a Black Lives Matter protest. Over 300 people were arrested that night, and no one even got close to the Capitol or the White House. On January 7th, then president-elect, Joe Biden, claimed that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protestors at the Capitol on Wednesday, they would’ve been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. I wonder what your thoughts are on the Capitol insurrection in light of the racial inequities George Floyd’s killing brought to the forefront of American discourse last summer. How do you think this ought to affect our conversations around racial justice in this country?
Mark Whitaker: So the insurrection on January 6th, in my view, was one of the most disgraceful displays that I’ve ever seen in our history. And it truly, for me, was a masterclass in highlighting what I’ll call white privilege and the disparate treatment of blacks versus whites at the hands of law enforcement. Images that day were whites breaking into the capital violently, terrorizing our elected representatives and staff, and parading around with a symbol of slavery and succession, the Confederate flag, through the Capitol rotunda, what we call the people’s house, and causing the loss of five lives. So I juxtapose that against images that we saw last year, for example, in Lafayette Park, right across from the White House, where there were peaceful protestors, Black Lives Matter protestors, committing no acts of whatsoever, just voicing their dismay and concerns over the disparate treatment of blacks at the hands of law enforcement. And they were tear gassed and cleared out. And when I look at those events and compare that to what happened with George Floyd and Brianna Taylor earlier last year, and the protests that followed, it truly is a matter that we need to get to the bottom of, and getting to the root of that disparity in treatment, what I think is truly white supremacy and white privilege in America, and eliminating that from our societal and economic fabric is the only route to equity in racial justice in our country.
Gina Banks: Agreed. I think, as you said, the words that you wrote to those of us in the firm are really appropriate here is particularly entitlement is just seeing people walk around something that belongs to all of us, and not even just to us within this country, but to everyone as an ideal, as a beacon of this ideal of democracy and to kind of just trample it underfoot, as we saw during the insurrection. Eric, do you have any thoughts that you want to share on this?
Eric Akira Tate: You know, obviously it’s one of the worst days in American history, and it was kind of weird. My dad actually was 30 years a Sergeant in the Air Force in a couple decades over service. So I was sort of an Air Force brat, and it was difficult for a lot of reasons, but one of was just, I grew up and was raised with understanding and the belief that respect for the Commander in Chief, whichever party was in office, you respected the office of the Commander in Chief. So given what was going on, that was difficult. The one thing that the insurrection showed me is that regardless of how many years, how many decades generations folks have been at it, there’s still a lot of work to do. And I personally observe and agree with the disparate treatment in terms of how the insurrectionists were treated versus the Black Lives Matter folks and the civil rights folks and just unbelievable. And I do recognize it’s obviously disheartening, but a reminder that what folks are trying to counteract is—has been ingrained. It’s part of our country for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it’s not going to change overnight. So I just hope that maybe, maybe getting to depths that day was—will hopefully shock people into not letting anything like that happen again, and hopefully be a start of galvanizing people that something just more constructive and positive for our country.
Gina Banks: Definitely that is something that we can all hope for and work to bring about. I think that this conversation is a good way to create dialogue amongst a broader group, to continue the efforts that the firm has embarked on, and just to continue the things that we’re each doing in our own respective communities to make a difference. And so I think both you, Eric and Mark, for joining me today in this podcast. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with both of you as part of the MoFo family. And I hope that anybody who’s listening who hasn’t had a chance to check out the other previous episodes of this series will go back and do so. You can find them at mofo.com/podcast and click on the diversity and practice series, and you’ll see all of the episodes there. Thank you both for your time.
Eric Akira Tate: Thank you so much.
Mark Whitaker: Thank you very much for inviting me, and I enjoyed participating in the podcast today.
Speaker: Please make sure to subscribe to the MoFo Perspectives Podcast so you don’t miss an episode. If you have any questions about what you heard today, or like more information on this topic, please visit mofo.com/podcasts. Again, that’s MoFo, M-O-F-O.com/podcasts.