As Christina held my hand and Ms. Mina held Mama's, there was a moment—one heartbeat, one breath—where all the differences in schooling and money and skin color evaporated like mirages in a desert. Where everyone was equal, and it was just one woman, helping another.
They were all wearing black shirts with a logo over the chest: NADS. "What's that stand for?" I asked.
"North American Death Squad," Raine said. "It's kind of our thing."
I wanted one of those T-shirts so bad. "So, like, how do you get to be a part of it?" I asked, as casually as I could manage.
One of the other guys laughed. "You get asked," he said.
I decided at that moment I was going to do whatever it took to get an invitation.
I enrolled Edison in preschool there, so that he started at the same time as all the other kids, and no one could see him as an outsider. He was one of them, from the start. When he wanted to have his friends over for a sleepover, no parent could say it was too dangerous an area for their kid to visit. It was, after all, their neighborhood, too.
Babies are such blank slates. They don't come into the world with the assumptions their parents have made, or the promises their church will give, or the ability to sort people into groups they like and don't like.
In that moment, we're not black and white, or attorney and accused. We're not separated by what I know about the legal system and what she has yet to learn. We are just two mothers, sitting side by side.
I think about Ruth walking down the street in East End and wonder how many other residents questioned what she was doing there, even if they never said it to her face. How incredibly easy it is to hide behind white skin, I think, looking at these probable supremacists. The benefit of the doubt is in your favor. You're not suspicious.
In fact, the easiest way to lose a case that has a racially motivated incident at its core is to actually call it what it is. Instead, you find something else for the jury to hang their hat on. Some shred of evidence that can clear your client of blame, and allow those twelve men and women to go home still pretending that the world we live in is an equal one.
Suddenly I realize that Kennedy's refusal to mention race in court may not be ignorant. It's the very opposite. It's because she is aware of exactly what I have to do in order to get what I deserve.
I might as well be blind and lost, and Kennedy McQuarrie is the only one with a map.
"The fact that I'm Black was never an issue in my relationship with my colleagues."
"Not until they needed a scapegoat. What I am trying to say, Ruth—may I call you that?—is that we will stand with you. Your Black brothers and sisters will go to bat for you. They will risk their jobs for you. They will march on your behalf and they will create a roar that cannot be ignored."
"You are not an imposter," Sam Hallowell told me. "You are not here because of luck, or because you happened to be in the right place at the right moment, or because someone like me had connections. You are there because you are you, and that is a remarkable accomplishment in itself."
"You say you don't see color...but that's all you see. You're so hyperaware of it, and of trying to look like you aren't prejudiced, you can't even understand that when you say race doesn't matter all I hear is you dismissing what I've felt, what I've lived, what it's like to be put down because of the color of my skin."
"They promised us we'd be part of something bigger than us. That we'd be proud of our heritage and our race. And maybe that's, like, ten percent of the whole deal. The rest is just hating everyone else for existing. Once I started thinking that, I couldn't stop. Maybe that's why I felt like shit all the time, like I wanted to fucking bust someone's face in constantly, just to remind myself that I could. That's okay for me. But that's not how I want my kid to grow up."
She looks at me, and we both laugh, and in that instant we are merely two women, standing over a lasagne, telling the truth. In that instant, with our flaws and confessions trailing like a slip from a dress, we have more in common than we have differences.
When you're ready for us, we'll be waiting for you. At that moment, I feel another presence I haven't felt before...It's a community of people who know my name, even when I don't always remember theirs. It's a congregation that never stopped praying for me, even when I flew from the nest.
It is a picture of a Black woman wearing a maid's uniform, holding a little girl in her arms. The girl has hair as light as snow, and her hand is pressed against her caregiver's cheek in shocking contrast. There's more than just duty between them. There's pride. There's love. "I didn't know your mother. But, Ruth—she didn't waste her life."
I've always thought of her as an uptight piece of work. But now I'm wondering: when she goes shopping, is she, like Ruth, asked to show her receipts before exiting the store? Does she mutely hand them over? Or does she ever snap and say she is the one who puts shoplifters on trial?
She falters, then gathers up the weeds of her thoughts and offers me the saddest, truest bouquet. "I didn't know."
"Why would you?" I reply—not angry, not hurt, just stating a fact. "You'll never have to."
What would happen if I ran into him on the street? At a Starbucks? Would we do the man hug thing? Or would we pretend we didn't know each other? He knew what I was, on the outside, just like I knew what he was. But in jail, things were different, and what I'd been taught to believe didn't hold true. If we crossed paths now, would he still be Twinkie to me? Or would he just be another nigger?
I have been thinking about what Odette Lawton said: if I hadn't spoken out against the black nurse, would this have ended differently? Would she have tried to save Davis the minute she realized he wasn't breathing? Would she have treated him like any other critical patient, instead of wanting to hurt me like I'd hurt her?
"You think you're a respected member of a community—the hospital where you work, the town where you live. I had a wonderful job. I had colleagues who were friends. I lived in a home I was proud of. But it was just an optical illusion. I was never a member of any of those communities. I was tolerated, but not welcomed. I was, and will always be, different from them."
What Kennedy said to all those strangers, it's been the narrative of my life, the outline inside of which I have lived. But I could have screamed it from the rooftops, and it wouldn't have done any good. For the jurors to hear it, really hear it, it had to be said by one of their own.
My head actually aches from holding three incompatible truths in it: 1. Black people are inferior. 2. Brit is half black. 3. I love Brit with all my heart.
Shouldn't numbers one and two make number three impossible? Or is she the exception to the rule? Was Adele one, too?
I think of me and Twinkie dreaming of the food we craved behind bars.
How many exceptions do there have to be before you start to realize that maybe the truths you've been told aren't actually true?