Tsedale M. Melaku, Ph.D.
At Rowman & Littlefield, we spend lots of time learning the stories behind the books we publish. In our 3 Questions series, we introduce our readers to more of the backstory. Our newest feature is with Tsedale M. Melaku, author of the new book, You Don't Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).
In "You Don't Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism," Tsedale M. Melaku highlights how race and gender create barriers to recruitment, professional development, and advancement to partnership for black women in elite corporate law firms.

"Tsedale Melaku’s important analysis of the ways systemic processes affect black women lawyers’ occupational mobility is timely, necessary, and so insightful." ― Adia Harvey Wingfield

In this Q&A, we asked Tsedale 3 questions for our readers to get a glimpse behind the scenes.

1) Why did you write the book and what do you hope readers take away from it?
I wrote this book because I wanted to share the lived experiences of black women in elite professional spaces. I wanted to engage a wider audience about how race and gender play a significant role in the career trajectories of women and people of color, but particularly women of color and more specifically black women. The book is my way of highlighting the various barriers and challenges that black women encounter as they try to advance in white institutional spaces. My hope is to elevate their voices so that they can be heard. In sharing their experiences and critically analyzing why they face significant challenges to advancing, I believe they can be better understood in ways that offer possible opportunities to change the narrative in their favor.

2) Everyone has a favorite sentence in their book. What’s yours?
My favorite sentence in my book is actually a quote from one of the women I interviewed, it really stuck with me from the moment Philomena, a third-year associate, said it during the interview and the entire time while I was writing. The sentence really captures the subtle ways that white institutions are able to maintain the status quo and really create competition amongst a very small population of lawyers of color. It speaks to visible invisibility, invisible labor, and emotional and mental labor to be exact.
Philomena said: “Just between the black women, we kind of all knew. It was like we are not competing against the rest of them; we’re competing against each other because they don’t need all of us; they just need enough of us.”

3) If you could elaborate on someone you mentioned in your acknowledgements, who would it be and why?
I could literally elaborate on every single person mentioned in my acknowledgements. They were all amazing throughout the writing of the book, but also during my graduate experience developing the idea that led to the book. But one person that I would absolutely elaborate on is my dissertation chair, mentor, sponsor and friend, Dr. Jerry G. Watts. After working with Dr. Watts for nearly 6 years, months before my defense he passed away. His encouragement, nurturing support and incredible feedback throughout my graduate education laid the foundation for my academic pursuits and this book in particular. From the moment I proposed the idea of conducting research on black women in elite law firms, Dr. Watts not only encouraged me but pushed me beyond my perceived intellectual limits. He believed in me. Dr. Watts told me that this work would positively impact the lives of my subjects and beyond. He said “keep going scholar,” and for that, I am forever grateful.

Want to read more 3 Questions features? Our previous profile on John E. Finn, author of Fracturing the Founding: How the Alt-Right Corrupts the Constitution can be found here.

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