Alexandra Wilson was a teenager when her dear family friend Ayo was stabbed on his way home from football. Ayo’s death changed Alexandra. She felt compelled to enter the legal profession in search of answers.
As a junior criminal and family law barrister, Alexandra finds herself navigating a world and a set of rules designed by a privileged few. A world in which fellow barristers sigh with relief when a racist judge retires: ‘I’ve got a black kid today and he would have had no hope’.
In her debut book, In Black and White, Alexandra re-creates the tense courtroom scenes, the heart-breaking meetings with teenage clients, and the moments of frustration and triumph that make up a young barrister’s life.
Alexandra shows us how it feels to defend someone who hates the colour of your skin, or someone you suspect is guilty. We see what it is like for children coerced into county line drug deals and the damage that can be caused when we criminalise teenagers.
Alexandra’s account of what she has witnessed as a young mixed-race barrister is in equal parts shocking, compelling, confounding and powerful.
I love books that introduce me to new heroes and open my eyes to incredible and awe-inspiring characters that I haven’t ‘met’ yet. I really enjoyed the Secret Barrister and once I knew that this book came with such a strong recommendation from them, I was just desperate to get my hands on it and meet Alexandra for myself.
It doesn’t really matter if you are interested in the legal system or not to love this book This is no run of the mill autobiography, but instead asks us to consider big questions about female ambition and what exactly is the cost of entering this profession if you are in any way ‘outside’ the common intake. It covers controversial ideas such as when ‘enough is enough’ for any woman who wants to consider herself strong, independent or a feminist in a world where the playing field is definitely not as level as we would all like to think it is. ‘Having it all’ is still very much an unattainable dream for most women entering the legal profession and being mixed-race and working class to boot means that Alexandra has to battle to be recognised as an equal in an environment where many people simply do not believe this to be true. It asks us to examine exactly how little has changed in terms of how exclusive this club actually is – and how little has changed across the last thirty years – sometimes dispiritingly little, it seems…
This book is determined to show us the entry into this profession from a warts and all perspective, not just as a strong, empowered and ambitious role model but sometimes someone who is enjoying poking fun at the ridiculousness of some of the situations that this culture dictates she finds herself in. I think we are all familiar with the idea that it’s hard to be a woman in a man’s world or the lone black figure in an all-white space and Alexandra does not just tell us, it shows us this repeatedly to try and make us see ecactly what it’s like. It is sometimes quite difficult to read as we see her repeatedly being judged due to her race and gender, rather than her ability and it increased my admiration for her character as she picked herself up, dusted herself down and gritted her teeth in order to walk forward stronger each time, even in the face of so much ridiculous prejudice and hostility.
I loved its immersive quality and spent an afternoon on the window seat, totally lost in its closed and privileged world. As a feminist, it was fascinating and sobering to see exactly how difficult it is to be a female with legal ambitions and it would be difficult for anyone to finish this book without a huge amount of respect for any mixed-race woman who enters this all-too-white boys club and is able to come out with their head held high.
I loved reading about Alexandra’s inspiring journey and I have enjoyed following her on Twitter and hearing her real life voice after enjoying her book so much. I have handed this over to a former student of mine who is off to study law this autumn and I hope that they feel inspired and energised by being able to read about Alexandra’s experiences from an ‘insider’s perspective’
Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and I heartily recommend that you buy yourself a copy as soon as possible so that you can enjoy this wonderfully written and thought provoking read for yourself. I know that Alexandra will have made Ayo proud and there can be no doubt that this book illustrates that she has honoured him with her life’s work, as well as her writing.
‘An inspirational, clear-eyed account of life as a junior barrister is made all the more exceptional by the determination, passion, humanity and drive of the author. Anyone interested in seeing how the law really works should read it.‘
‘This is the story of a young woman who overcame all the obstacles a very old profession could throw at her, and she survived, with her integrity intact.’
‘The personal narrative of a young female lawyer of mixed heritage who is defying the soft bigotry of low expectations by sharing her journey inspires us all to do the same in our own way, and this is a powerful message which needs to be shared.’ DR TUNDE OKEWALE MBE, FOUNDER OF URBAN LAWYERS