After the Zimmerman verdict, my pastor sent a letter to the congregation expressing his hurt and anger. Near the end of the letter, he relayed a text he received in the wake of the verdict: “how cool would it be to live in a world where Zimmerman offers Trayvon a ride home to get him out of the rain that night?”
Hold that thought while I go over here to a completely unrelated moment.
Mid July. I’m in my new place setting up my kitchen when I randomly have the thought, “I don’t think I would marry someone with a felony.” And my justification for played out in my head just as easily unexpectedly as the initial thought. “I wouldn’t want to marry someone whose past makes it difficult for us to build a future, much less a present. If we wanted to function as a two-income household, it might be impossible if he intends to be honest on the ‘Do you have a criminal record?’ question. And how could we both volunteer at our child’s school if he has a record and they don’t allow people with records to volunteer? And what about being a politically active couple? What interest could I expect my husband to have in that if he can’t even vote?”
And even as I was thinking these things, I knew they weren’t fair. It’s not fair that we have a system that doesn’t allow people to move on with their lives once they’ve paid their debt to society. It’s not fair that that 95 percent of all felony cases are plea bargained and that people who can’t afford an attorney tend to take whatever deal they can get. It’s not fair that men in some communities are targeted and more likely to be caught than men in other neighborhoods if they are committing a felony. It’s not right that bankers who cripple the world economy don’t go to jail, don’t get prosecuted, and people who steal a few bucks because they’re hungry do.
“But just the same,” my unforeseen internal monologue concluded, “because of the hardships it would add to the already challenging circumstance of marriage, I wouldn’t want to marry someone who’s been convicted of a crime, even someone who’s changed and would never do it again under any circumstances.” And I returned to putting my dishes away.
Days later, several thoughts merged in an epiphany: I work within the constraints of the system while trying to change it. I code switch when necessary. I don’t pick up strangers who ask me for help, even though I know I might be passing up angels or Christ and securing my place with the goats on Judgment Day. I accept that only about two out of a million writers live off their books, so I make writing my part-time job, and I may have to always do that. Or marry rich.
I want to live in a world where people think making art is a real job and the artist should be paid well for her work. Where black people aren’t demonized, where there’s nothing wrong with the way we talk. Where violence and sexualized violence against women aren’t so embedded in our culture that I can’t help a stranger. Where black criminality isn’t so reinforced that while I surely wouldn’t stalk a black teen I saw walking in the rain, I wouldn’t offer him a ride home, either.
But until then, I live a dual existence. I’m a complicit fighter.