As a member of the only family of color in his neighborhood, Joey Oteng often struggled with his racial identity growing up in a white suburb of Cincinnati.
Oteng, a second-year law student, said his parents immigrated from Ghana, West Africa in 1984. As a Ghanaian American who identifies as Black but was raised in a white culture, Oteng said he considers himself tricultural — and this awareness of his identity factors into his study of law.
Oteng said his experience at the Moritz College of Law has been a balance between feeling professionally supported by staff while also being in an isolating environment. Because the law is a political tool, Oteng said his classmates’ socialization and biases are prevalent in classroom discussions and the ways in which they interact with clients.
“There’s so many instances where our conversations lack nuance and context because we’re not factoring in social identities,” Oteng said. “I think there’s ways in which we posit that the law is objective, or we’re supposed to be objective ourselves, or we can distance ourselves from our own perceptions of reality, or worldview or politics. And yet still, that impacts every single thing that we do or say.”
Oteng said he felt hopeful knowing three of the nine deans in the Moritz College of Law — Michael States, assistant dean for Admissions, Financial Aid and Diversity Initiatives; Darren Nealy, assistant dean of Students; and Kathy Seward Northern, associate dean for Admissions — are Black.
“I was like, ‘Oh, look at all these Black folks, this is gonna be a different experience,’” Oteng said. “It’s been great to have them as support.”
Before his time at Ohio State’s law school, Oteng said he felt compelled to adopt W. E. B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness — in which Black people must understand both Black and white culture — in school growing up.
“My socialization, all the books we had to read in school, or all these TV shows that all my friends are watching like ‘Friends’ or ‘Full House,’ I’ve seen all of them as well because I needed to know that information,” Oteng said.
Now, with his studies and his experiences in hand, Oteng said he is looking to share what he has learned.
During the nationwide protests over the summer that resulted from the killing of George Floyd, Oteng interned remotely for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services and resources for journalists. Because of his affiliation with the organization, Oteng said he was unable to participate in any protests.
“Ironically, one of our company policies was that we weren’t allowed to use our First Amendment right,” Oteng said. “I could not engage, which was challenging for me.”
Although he was unable to walk the Columbus streets as a form of protest, that didn’t stop him from making his voice heard.
In a short two-week period over the summer, Oteng gained roughly 12,000 followers on Instagram after he started producing content relating to social justice issues and anti-racism. Through infographics and short videos, Oteng said his content explained concepts such as racial battle fatigue, white savior complex and authentic allyship.
Oteng has sustained his following on social media and currently has more than 13,000 Instagram followers. He said he creates a new set of infographics and a video at least once a month but will still post content almost everyday of past topics.
Having received a Master of Education at Kent State University in 2017, Oteng is a natural when it comes to informing and engaging the public.
In addition to his content, Oteng said he is hired by organizations to teach social justice workshops at various places, such as schools, law firms, fraternities and sororities. He said he currently gives between six and 12 lectures a month.
“For me, it was being empowered in this way, to be able to help welcome people to a conversation they’ve always been invited to and give them tangible ways to engage meaningfully in this time for racial justice in this ongoing socio-political moment,” Oteng said.
Oteng’s “Social Justice: 101” workshop can be found on his website for free. The series includes videos breaking down various social justice concepts in four minutes or less, as well as infographics, resources and interactive worksheets, according to the website.