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Top black journalist heckled at City law diversity event speaks out

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Exclusive: Afua Hirsch says she was branded a ‘fascist’ by attendee, who host firm confirms was not an employee

Afua Hirsch via Wikimedia Commons

A top black journalist has hit out at the “deep hostility” she encountered during a City law firm diversity event.

Barrister turned broadcaster Afua Hirsch was invited to speak at an event held at the London office of Mayer Brown during Black History Month last year. The event was hosted by the firm’s BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) network, Fusion, and invitations were extended to the wider legal community, including the firm’s clients, contacts and alumni, as well as members from other law firm diversity groups.

This week it has emerged on social media that Hirsch was interrupted by a heckler during her talk, which focused on structural racism in Britain. Hirsch — who has worked as a journalist for Sky News and The Guardian, as well as a barrister for Doughty Street Chambers — says an audience member, who has not been named, shouted loudly from the back of the room, and accused her of being a “fascist”.

A spokesperson from Mayer Brown confirmed that the heckler is not a lawyer nor an employee of the firm.

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Hirsh told Legal Cheek the incident served as a reminder of the “deep hostility” that still exists towards black people in Britain. She added:

“I felt it was positive that Mayer Brown created a space for an honest and open conversation about race and how it manifests in Britain. My criticism is of the so far unidentified speaker whose hostility I felt was from a place of entitlement and a desire to silence.”

A spokesperson from Mayer Brown said:

“Mayer Brown hosted an insightful and inspiring talk by Afua Hirsch for last year’s Black History Month. During the event, an attendee made a regrettable comment. That individual was neither a Mayer Brown lawyer nor an employee of the firm. In addition, the comment made does not reflect the views, opinions or values of Mayer Brown.”

Hirsch’s decision to speak out comes after the death of African-American George Floyd in US police custody, which sparked protests from the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement across the US and beyond. Floyd’s death has led to “a surge of ‘courageous conversations’ in the workplace”, and prompted others to speak about their encounters with racism, including Guildford Chambers pupil barrister Lola-Rose Avery, and the wife of 25 Bedford Row criminal barrister Leon-Nathan Lynch.

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