Preconceived Notions

The Honorable Aramis Ayala [Photo: State Attorney’s Office for Florida]

BY KEISHA BELL | Visionary Brief

When you think of certain positions, “white” and “male” are the first images that come to mind.  In professional settings, these positions are routinely the ones at the upper management level.  Before the 2008 election of Mr. Barack Obama, the Office of the President of the United States was a prime and very public example of this. His victory introduced the world to a new image of possibility.  It signified progress in the face of resistance.  Still, this ray of hope came in the form of a male.  What happens when shattering this preconceived notion comes in the form of African-American and female?

Meet The Honorable Aramis Ayala.  In 2016, Mrs. Ayala defeated incumbent Jeff Ashton. As a result, she became Florida’s first African-American State Attorney.  State Attorney Ayala serves the Ninth Judicial Circuit, specifically Florida’s Orange and Osceola counties.  Florida’s Governor has recently removed 21 murder cases from her office.  He has reassigned them to Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney.  True to tradition, he is white and male.

After careful research and consideration, State Attorney Ayala has taken the stance not to pursue the death penalty via her office—Florida’s governor objects.  State legislators have proposed cutting her budget by $1.3 million.  Before resigning, a Seminole County Clerk of Courts employee posted on social media that State Attorney Ayala should be “tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree.”  Notably, the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that it is unconstitutional to require prosecutors to pursue death penalties in any case.

Many have a valid concern as to whether this State Attorney would face such harsh consequences if “she” were “he” and if he were white.  Is there a conscious or subconscious sense of entitlement in demanding a we-have-always-done-it-this-way result and thus discrediting this Florida Bar licensed attorney and elected official?  For too many, State Attorney Ayala’s mere presence challenges this mentality.  This is true, however, for all women and minorities who hold positions created without them in mind.

Unbeknown to most, African-American women face unique obstacles in the workplace that are oftentimes whispered at best.  Many times, the welcome mat is not left at the door.  There are times when situations arise that are uncomfortable and unpleasant and racially-and-gender-based.  Such hypotheticals are not given in colleges or universities.  Mentors are too few and too far to be found.  Custom says to grin and bear it.  The effort is made.  After all, we have always done it that way.  Sometimes, she cannot simply grin and bear it.  So, what are we—-all of us—-to do?  The answer may be found in dismantling our preconceived notions.  Customs cloud clarity.

Keisha Bell is an Attorney, author and public servant.

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