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Shades of Gray

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A good friend, a doctor, was recently on trial. When he asked if I would come to show support, I asked if he thought it would help. He said, "I believe so, but let me ask my attorney." The report back was, "The more people you have in the courtroom the better." I had no doubt that my friend was innocent, so I was eager to come and support him. It wasn't hard to convince my mother to come as well, as she had met him before.

The proceedings were interesting. And even though my mother speaks and understands only limited English, with translation help from me during the recesses she was able to follow along with the prosecutor and attorney. I was touched by how interested my mother became in the trial. The more she saw and heard, the more convinced she became that my friend was innocent. Even if I was not able to attend later sessions, she planned to be there every day to support my friend.

At the end of the week, I called my friend to ask about the following week's court schedule. We talked about the case and how it was going so far. In the middle of our conversation, my friend paused for a moment. "You know what my attorney said?" He told me that his attorney advised him not to have "black people" in the courtroom, saying that "their" presence might negatively affect the jury's decision.

Although my friend was shocked, he eventually recognized that perhaps the attorney was simply looking out for his client's well-being. My friend had only reluctantly shared the attorney's comment with me and he made it clear that I was welcome to do whatever I preferred.

I too was shocked, taken aback, even a little hurt. Nevertheless it seemed like the most important thing was to do what was best for my friend. I decided we would stop attending. I did not want our presences to distract the attorney.

As it turned out, another mutual friend, also black, came to the courtroom the following week. I had suggested that my friend share his attorney's comment with Chloe, but he chose not to. At one point the attorney turned to my friend, his client, and asked, "Who's this?" He responded, "That's my friend Chloe. I have black friends. What can I say?"

My mother grew up in Haiti, where she never experienced full-on racism. I am grateful that she has mostly been spared from experiencing it here in the U.S. as well. I decided not to tell my mother the real reason we weren't going back to the courtroom.

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