‘I am a woman. I am mixed-race. I grew up in East London and Essex. I am not posh, but I am not going to let anyone tell me that the Bar is not for “people like me”.

This is my story.”


Many people will have seen the recent media about the discriminatory treatment of a black barrister by officials at court. The young woman in question, Alexandra Wilson, is also the author of the compelling memoir In Black and White – and in the first pages of her book she recounts a similar such story of discrimination at court which occurs just after she finishes the Bar Professional Training Course, when it’s assumed she’s the defendant in the case. She comments that she was dressed exactly the same as every other barrister present and yet none of them had been mistaken for the defendant: ‘The only difference between me and them was the colour of my skin.’

During the course of the book, Wilson recounts numerous incidents of mistaken identity and assumptions made by colleagues and others based on class and race. It’s both interesting and not a little unsettling to read, particularly if one’s experienced similar such situations or comments by people who quite frankly should know and behave better.

While it would be easy for Wilson to be preachy or bitter about her experiences, instead she uses them to shine a spotlight on the imbalances that exist in court and out, referencing her cases (with names changed) to illustrate some truly heart-rending decisions and outcomes. One incident that particularly stuck in my mind was the murder of Ayo, a close family friend, who was black and unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His death arguably fed into Wilson’s choice of career. She recounts how later she watched a mock trial, based on a real court case, but with actors playing the parts. As fate would have it, the trial under scrutiny was Ayo’s. While the perpetrators, in reality were convicted, in the mock one, one of the defendants was acquitted due to a subsequent change in the law. It was a painful experience, but also affirming for Wilson: ‘… the unlikely coincidence of Ayo’s case being used … confirmed my belief that I should pursue a career at the Bar. It felt like Ayo’s blessing.’

In Black and White is an important book. It not only spotlights the vast inequities in our legal system, but also raises greater issues relating to race and class. And for someone who grew up in south London and remembers vividly the impact of Stephen Lawrence’s murder on the community at the time, the fear, anger and frustrations felt, as someone who worried about her brother walking down the wrong street, standing at the wrong bus stop, being noticed by the wrong people because of the colour of his skin, this book resonates. It shouldn’t be, in the twenty-first century that how we are treated, the outcome of whether we get justice for crimes perpetrated against us or, alternatively, whether we receive a fair and balanced sentence for crimes we commit, is based merely on the fact of skin pigmentation; yet that is too often the case. And one has to ask, if a mixed-race barrister can’t be treated fairly or with decency at court, then what hope does anyone else have?

This is a very readable book, often dealing with unpalatable truths, but what comes across is how refreshing the author is in her authenticity and honesty in speaking about matters that are far from easy to tackle for so many of us. She questions throughout if the bar is for people ‘like her’, coming to the conclusion at end that of course it is, that it is essential, in fact, that it embraces ethnic diversity. ‘The Bar represents the whole of society. It should reflect that,’ she says. It’s a simple statement, somewhat obvious some might think, but it doesn’t make it any the less true. It’s certainly something to think about, to work towards. And wouldn’t it be grand to live in a world like that? Where justice is fair and true and the law isn’t so often an ass.



Alexandra Wilson| | In Black and White | Endeavour | 2020 | hb | £16.99

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Acknowledgements: Book text quotes © Alexandra Wilson 2020. This review is published as part of the publisher virtual book tour. Many thanks to  Anne Cater of Random Things Tours, as always and thanks to the publisher for sending us a review copy. The issues raised by Ms Wilson in this book are very close to our heart and affect us directly. We feel strongly that the publication of books like this shine a spotlight on issues that need to be addressed, that need to have the right voice. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved. Please check out the other wonderful reviewers on this tour and please share them.

Also of interest:By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’;‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

This review is copyright © 2020 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. We welcome your feedback and comments on this piece and the site. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.




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