Small Great Things

Small Great Things

Small Great Things Chapter 18, Kennedy Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Kennedy and Micah's wedding anniversary, Kennedy gets the stomach flu. Micah finds her asleep in the bathroom, carries her to bed, and makes her promise to not go to work. He does agree to fetch her briefcase, which spills everywhere. As he picks up the papers, Micah asks why she has a lab report that found abnormal results. When he explains that he can't interpret the results, Kennedy asks if he'll take her to see a neonatologist for their anniversary.
Micah's assertion that he can't interpret the results of a newborn screening, even though he's a doctor, again shows Kennedy that she can't make assumptions about people—not all doctors know the same information, just as Ruth is an individual, not a stereotype.
Themes
Institutional Racism Theme Icon
Kennedy tells the reader that being tried "by a jury of your peers" isn't entirely true, as the defense and prosecution choose people carefully from the jury pool. Knowing she needs help from a black person in making good choices, Kennedy approaches Harry and asks if she can steal Howard. Harry doesn't care. As Kennedy leads Howard out, she learns that he's only 24 and has never seen To Kill a Mockingbird. She says that he'll do fieldwork, research, and take notes during jury selection. He asks if Kennedy actually offered Judge Thunder a blowjob right before they enter the judge's chambers.
Kennedy's decision to ask Howard for help shows that she's already come around in this one regard: she understands that, as a white person, she cannot understand what it's actually like to be black, and she's liable to miss all manner of microaggressions. Howard, on the other hand, will be able to identify racism that Kennedy might miss.
Themes
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Judge Thunder and Odette Lawton are already inside. Thunder gives half of the jury questionnaires to each lawyer, tells them to switch in a few hours, and says jury selection starts in two days. As Howard and Kennedy drive back to the office, she explains that they need to become detectives to figure out who will be the best fit. They want someone with a high social standing, but who has experienced prejudice. Howard heads out with his list of jurors while Kennedy drives to a low-income apartment building. She soon gets a call from Howard; he's outside an affluent gated community and doesn't want to get out of the car for fear of getting arrested. Embarrassed, Kennedy tells Howard to meet her at her house.
Kennedy is embarrassed because, as a white woman, it's never occurred to her that it might not be safe to get out of the car in a white neighborhood. Howard, on the other hand, is liable to be arrested thanks to the implicit racism of many white people who don't believe he has the same right as they do to exist in society. Though this is certainly awkward for Howard, working with him does allow Kennedy to learn more about what it's like to be black from someone other than Ruth.
Themes
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The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Late that night, Kennedy and Howard have spread out over her home office. Howard spent the afternoon doing internet research while Kennedy did the fieldwork. Howard shows Ruth his three piles of jurors that he split up using what he could find on Facebook and LinkedIn. One pile has people aware of racism, while the other has conservative voters or people who are overtly racist on social media. The middle pile contains people who post questionable photos. Howard soberly says that this has been a shocking experience, and then shows Kennedy the Twitter account @WhiteMight. The profile picture is Davis.
By allowing the reader to witness how lawyers go about jury selection, it supports Kennedy's earlier assertion that juries aren't at all random: presumably, Howard and Kennedy will do what they can to make sure that the potential jurors who are overtly racist won't be part of Ruth's jury.
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The next morning, Kennedy meets Odette to talk about the jurors they both want to decline. Kennedy doesn't know Odette well, but wonders if she gets her receipts checked like Ruth does. Kennedy tries to make pleasant small talk, but Odette refuses the olive branch. As she walks away, Howard rushes in to tell Kennedy about a study about racial prejudice. He explains that it found that when white people are aware that they're racist, they compensate by thinking more favorably of darker-skinned black people. Kennedy is confused, but Howard says that Ruth, as a light-skinned black person, is at risk.
This study complicates the straightforward notion of racism and colorism. Per the study's findings, Adisa would fare better in court than Ruth will, simply because Adisa's skin is darker. The one thing that gave Ruth a leg up in life early on will now make it harder for her to get through this trial in one piece.
Themes
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Ruth and Kennedy meet behind the courthouse for jury selection. Ruth looks professional but very nervous. Kennedy introduces her to Howard and then they sit at the defense table together. Judge Thunder addresses the potential jurors and excuses one man who says that Odette locked up his brother. Then, the jurors are shown out and Kennedy explains that during jury selection, she and Odette will question each person individually. She and Odette each get to strike seven jurors without justification.
The description of how jury selection works continues to demystify the court system for the reader. In doing so, it offers up the tools the reader can then use to pick out instances of racism or discrimination without Kennedy or Howard having to point it out.
Themes
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Odette questions the first juror, a man who runs a hardware store and has a brother who's a cop. Kennedy asks about his opinions on medical treatment and learns that his mother died during an endoscopy. The second man is an older black man and Kennedy loves him immediately. A bit later, juror number 12 takes the stand. She's a teacher in an integrated classroom and tells Kennedy that she's not biased and she doesn't have a problem with black people. Howard gives Kennedy his signal, so Kennedy fakes a coughing fit. Howard takes over questioning, which reveals that she is biased.
Juror number 12's insistence that she's not biased because she teaches in an integrated classroom mirrors Kennedy's earlier insistence that she's not racist because she works with black clients—simply associating with people of color in one's line of work doesn't mean someone isn't racist. With this, the novel again shows that people with biases are everywhere, but when they're white, they can move through society unnoticed.
Themes
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After the individual questioning, Odette and Kennedy choose whom to excuse from the first group of fourteen jurors. Odette doesn't want to allow Kennedy to excuse juror number 12, so Kennedy and Howard huddle to discuss. Howard wants her to use a strike, but Kennedy decides to accept her and hope that she'll swing in their favor. Odette tries to excuse Kennedy's favorite juror, but Kennedy insists this is racist and calls for a trial. Odette takes the stand and Kennedy questions her on how she rated other jurors. Judge Thunder finally says that the juror can stay. Ruth passes Kennedy a note that says, "thank you."
When Kennedy chooses to not fight over juror number 12, it shows that she still thinks the best of people and is unwilling to accept this woman's unexamined racism. The fact that she's unwilling to listen to Howard also shows that Kennedy still thinks she's the expert here and is willing to disregard the actual experts in the room because of that.
Themes
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When Judge Thunder dismisses them, Kennedy invites Ruth to get a glass of wine. She tries to raise a toast, but Ruth swirls her wine and recounts a story that Mama told about being accused of caring for someone else's baby when she was out with Ruth, since Ruth is so light-skinned. Ruth admits that black kids always made her feel worse than white kids, and Odette made her feel awful again. Kennedy realizes that she's never had this conversation with a black client before, and thinks that she and Ruth trust each other enough to explain things. Ruth thanks Kennedy for bringing up race, but Kennedy warns that she'll stop when the trial starts.
When Ruth admits that black kids always made her feel bad, it's important to note that she also implies that white kids made her feel bad. In other words, the way she talks about her childhood here points back to the fact she read about the lonely whale who couldn't speak to any of its own kind. Ruth still feels as though she's not a part of the black community, as evidenced by her poor feelings towards Odette—but Kennedy's ability to listen to Ruth makes Ruth more comfortable.
Themes
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The Justice System and the Politics of Speech Theme Icon
Ruth confirms that she'll still get to testify, and Kennedy says that just because the courts pretend cases don't have to do with racism, it doesn't mean racism isn't there. She says she lies for a living and could tell the jury anything. Kennedy asks if Ruth thinks racism will ever not exist. Ruth doesn't think so, but they toast to baby steps.
This frank conversation helps Kennedy and Ruth become closer to each other and trust each other more. In particular, the fact that they're finally able to talk about racism shows that what Ruth wants more than anything is for someone to take her experience seriously.
Themes
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Kennedy spends all weekend preparing for opening arguments and meets the neonatologist, Ivan Kelly-Garcia, on Sunday. She asks him about Connecticut newborn screenings, which he explains look for congenital diseases like amino acid disorders and sickle cell anemia. Kennedy hands him Davis's lab results. Ivan looks through and says that Davis had MCADD, which means he was missing an enzyme that would've left him susceptible to death if his blood sugar dropped. He might have lived if doctors had caught this disorder. Ivan asks what day he was born. When he learns that Davis was born on Thursday and his heel stick was taken on Friday, he says that Davis might've had a chance if he'd been born earlier in the week—the state lab is closed over the weekend.
Ivan's assessment of Davis's results creates another metaphor for everyday racism: just as race is an arbitrary way to divide people up, Davis was at a disadvantage because of the entirely arbitrary fact that he was born late in the week. By setting up this link between the nature of Davis's death and the nature of racism, the novel seeks to impress upon the reader that these seemingly arbitrary divides can still have devastating results.
Themes
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