On the drive from New York to Georgia, Justyce McAllister has a lot to think about. He thinks about finals and his racist roommate, Roosevelt. Although Roosevelt comes from money, Justyce pities him because he clearly isn’t happy. Justyce, however, is very happy after a great first year at Yale. During the year, he often wrote to his childhood friend and secret “Fellow smart guy,” Quan Banks. In fact, Justyce checked his mailbox quickly before leaving campus on a hunch. There was a letter from Quan—and its contents still disturb Justyce.
Roosevelt’s example makes Justyce understand that privilege doesn’t mean much if a person doesn’t have the mindset to enjoy it. In other words, it’s possible for anyone of any social class to be unhappy. But it’s also worth noting that it’s no doubt easier for someone like Roosevelt—who’s white, grew up with privilege, and so doesn’t have to contend with racism, implicit bias, or poverty—to find contentment.
From the backseat, Jared groans and asks if they’re there yet. Justyce’s girlfriend, Sarah-Jane, nicknamed SJ, snappily asks why “it” is talking and scolds Justyce for deciding to room with Jared next year. SJ insists it shouldn’t be Justyce’s responsibility to get Jared home safe, especially since Jared’s dad will go after Justyce if something happens on the trip. Justyce thinks about his new friendship with Jared. Since they met at Manny’s grave last year, they’ve been close friends, and Jared is improving. He often asks for a “privilege check.” All of this annoys SJ. She reminds everyone that Jared is only riding with Justyce because Jared’s license was suspended after getting a DUI, running from the cops, and getting caught with marijuana.
In Dear Martin, Jared didn’t believe that the United States was still racist. But Manny’s death showed Jared that he was incorrect. Now, it seems as though Jared is taking steps to educate himself and recognize his privilege. In this way, Jared becomes a model of what’s possible when a person with privilege chooses to acknowledge that fact. Even if Jared hasn’t yet won over SJ, Justyce sees that Jared is doing the best he can to square with his mistakes.
SJ spits that an Black person would be in jail or dead if they’d been in Jared’s situation. Justyce and Jared are silent. What SJ doesn’t know is that Jared knows and has cried about all of this, even if he was lucky (his dad showed up and got him out of jail). Out of nowhere, Justyce says that Quan didn’t do it. SJ scolds Jared when he asks if Justyce actually believes Quan, and SJ rolls her eyes when he asks why Quan is in jail if he’s innocent. Justyce explains that “Dudes like us” don’t snitch. Instead of asking why, Jared simply asks what they’re going to do about it. They’re qualified to help, since they’re all prelaw students at prestigious colleges. With some coaxing, SJ agrees to help the boys prove Quan’s innocence.
The book suggests that it’s important for both Jared and readers to remember how inequitable the justice system in the U.S. is, especially given that the novel itself is about how Quan has been incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. But it’s a mark of how much Jared has improved when he asks how he and his friends can help Quan. He’s no longer willing to sit by and believe unquestioningly that a person who’s in jail belongs there. Instead, because he recognizes how unequal things are—and how privileged he is—he knows he has to step up and fight for change.