With each new law job I've started, at some point the e-mail arrives: "Invitation to Join the Diversity Committee." It's a workday reminder that not only am I a woman, but I'm a member of an ethnic minority and, as such, a rare commodity in the legal profession. If I don't reply, I unfailingly receive a follow-up call, inquiring why I haven't responded—underscoring the subtle point that as one of the few examples of an "ethnic" attorney, my refusal to join the committee would be noticed. I willingly accept the invitation, spend the occasional lunch hour discussing recruitment, talk on career panels, engage in conversations about race that don't happen elsewhere in the workplace. The e-mail from the diversity committee is the invitation that can't be refused. ...
Recent years have seen a depressing pattern in which notable "ethnic" political figures— from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on down—end up having to extricate themselves from the tangles of racial politics... This may have much to do with the fact that, unlike their "nonethnic" counterparts, such "minority role models" are regularly asked to put on the public record—at lunches, award ceremonies, community events—lengthy statements of their views on America's most explosive topic: race.
Imagine Chief Justice John Roberts being invited by members of his own cultural network to deliver remarks for the Honorable William H. Rehnquist Law & Cultural Diversity Memorial Lecture on what special qualities white men bring to the bench: "What makes your approach, as a white male, different from that of your black judicial colleagues?" "Does being a white man give you special insight into the perspective of white male defendants in discrimination cases?" "Has the presence of white men on the bench made any difference in American law?" Odds are he wouldn't last two minutes before treading on someone's sensibilities. But this political high-wire act is expected from minority figures as a matter of course.
--Monica Youn, Slate, on unequal burden