The first time I realized that there was no such thing as justice may have come much later than most. Maybe it came earlier than most depending on which side of the proverbial “tracks” you stand on. Regardless, there was plenty beforehand that may have made me feel unfairly targeted while simultaneously feeling like I got off easy. It’s always been a tenuous balance I’ve walked between trying to explain to my family why this shit just keeps happening to me and benefitting from the privileges I’m afforded because of who my family members are and the way I sometimes look.
The first time I realized there was no such thing as justice was in Family Court in 2008. My abusive ex had told lie after lie in his court statement about me even going so far as to proclaim that I had insisted my child wasn’t his but he knew the truth. How does that even work? If the mother says her child isn’t a man’s how does a man know better? Theoretically this is absurd, but by this point in time almost ten years later, it’s not really that shocking any more.
I sat in Family Court in 2008 on Valentine’s Day (yes, the universe really does have a wry sense of humor where I’m concerned) and told the mediator how he abused me. I told the mediator why I hadn’t made the effort to let him “meet” “his” son which included verbal threats, cursing, and abusive denigration of me over voicemail and telephone and him not even asking. I said he’d been here multiple times and never once reached out. When he had reached out months prior to the birth, he cursed at me and called me names. Why would any mother in her right mind cater to this behavior? My child is my priority.
THIS WOMAN recommended 50/50 custody split for someone to whom paternity wasn’t even proven, had an arrest record, drug history, and was accused of domestic violence. She didn’t even hesitate but instead wrote in her report how I was disagreeable and interfered with his relationship with an infant. I have never been the same.
You think that the system is biased in favor of women but that is a lie. When you actually begin to learn about the system, you realize that you’ve been spoon fed the lies and perpetuated the stereotypes all while children and women suffer. Sometimes, of course, it’s for the good of the children. #notallmen right? Sometimes, of course, women are the abusive ones. But here’s the funny part about this— abusers always benefit from the justice system. In 85% of cases where domestic violence is proven, the abuser has the preferable custody arrangement and gets what they want in court. Otherwise, typically men get what they ask for. Men just don’t know all they have to do is ask so they don’t ask and instead don’t get what they want.
I could fill books with all the injustice done to women and children in the justice system’s family courts and maybe some day I will. But this isn’t really about that. This is just about the first time I realized this shit was a fucking lie.
I’d never really gotten in trouble. I’d always followed the rules. Despite always following the rules, I’d had my fair share of unfair and seemingly random injustices. I’d also had my fair share of fuck ups like speeding tickets, bad roommates, not turning in homework, whatever. I was a mostly straight A student who took the highest level honors courses and did her extracurriculars like she was supposed to. I had my responsibilities and I went to college and even was offered full rides. I almost got into Ivy league schools and prestigious universities if I hadn’t declared Undeclared as a major and never corrected the paperwork despite the college mailing me an “ARE YOU SURE????” letter in the mail. Yes, I regret not correcting that oversight. I really would have liked to go there. But I recognize how privileged it is to have a speeding ticket and live to tell the tale let alone multiple speeding tickets. I recognize how privileged it is to have money to even apply to college let alone multiple universities.
But you can’t really quantify things until you’re older. How can you put into context what it means for a school to kick you off campus during finals week (whether you’re guilty of something or not, it’s pretty irrelevant when school is supposed to be about your success, not set you up for failure) and then kick you out for failing your finals? You can’t put that into a meaningful paradigm at 18. How can you understand attempted rape by a professor when you think it’s your fault for drinking? And how can you put that attempted rape into a meaningful paradigm when your mentors shrug it off and accuse you of trying to take down a man of color erasing your nonwhite identity at 21? I don’t know that I even understood what rape was until I was 30 let alone white privilege. I read Passing but I didn’t understand how this affected me similarly since I wasn’t black. I was very naive and didn’t get it. And that’s the problem isn’t it?
I can’t even tell you how many different ways individuals and especially multi-national corporations SCREWED me for thousands of dollars. Name a corporation and they’ve screwed me for thousands: T-Mobile, Cingular Wireless (yes, I’m old), Blockbuster (I said I was old), 24 Hour Fitness, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Abercrombie & Fitch, Guess…
These are injustices that weren’t apparent to me. I am sure I could have awoken to that injustice at any time but it just wasn’t the same as being in the court of law— the actual justice system— and being treated as though I was a liar when I had proof I was telling the truth. They didn’t care about my proof. They didn’t care about the truth. They didn’t care about intent, they didn’t care about anything but their opinion. They cared about their emotions and not the actual facts. They didn’t even care about the innocent person that was being sacrificed to their own prejudices. They didn’t even care this wasn’t a marriage that had failed, this was a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship that ended months before the pregnancy. The justice system didn’t care about the truth.
My only reaction at the time was a perpetual state of “What??” I didn’t understand how this could be. At 24 years old I sat there completely dumbfounded at how literally everything I had spent my life defending, believing in, relying on, feeling protected by, even aspiring to serve, was a complete facade. There is a shock– a fracturing– that happens when you realize protection and justice is not for you.
The justice system didn’t care about actual justice.
That day in 2008 and the ones following was the moment I realized that the system was irreparably broken. That was the moment I realized there is no such thing as justice. I thought at the very least justice would protect the innocent. I understood that when you’re accused of a crime, that there’s a presumption of guilt looming over your supposed “innocence until proven guilty.” However, what crime has an infant child ever committed that the justice system would fail to protect them? I had been “served” months prior and was distraught– as any person embroiled in legalities and lawsuits is, was, or would be– but had felt empowered and vindicated by the actual truth of my situation. “I will be okay” was my naive feeling on the matter. I truly believed that I could show up with papers in tow proving he was full of shit and that I could protect my child from his lies and entitlement.
I was under a dangerous illusion that I will never hold again.
I never understood how the justice system could act so unjustly and even how a mother and woman could do another mother and woman so dirty in the name of justice. And I still don’t understand. But what I do know, is that my illusion of justice was irreparably destroyed that day. I’ve never once believed since then that this system is here for anyone but the people it was designed for: White, Christian, Men or those that pretend to be any one of the aforementioned. Especially if they’re elite. Money buys justice. Nothing else.
So here we are 8 years later in 2016 witnessing an ever growing discontent with JusticeTM and the system which protects the interests of the few at the expense of the many. Here we are witnessing the “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” of Black Lives Matter and the continued execution of black men and women. Here we are witnessing the growth and surging response of oppressed people saying “we do not accept this as justice when it is at core, grossly unjust.” We are hearing the indigenous Native Americans stand up to the state and say we will be idle no more. We are hearing men and women join in to say NO to rape culture. This is unacceptable, everyone is saying. We demand justice.
And we are better off for this.
A system that was built to serve the interests of the few can’t be modified to serve the interests of the many. At core, it will always be biased in favor of the few. It’s good that we realize this system was always unjust and that what seems like “progress” is really a change of priorities of the privileged who have always benefitted. But it is so painful and terrifying to realize that you’ve never once been protected by true justice, rather just been lucky in avoiding the injustice that has been ever-present despite your level of awakening.
Truly, I am sorry to everyone who is having their moment of awakening now. I am sorry to everyone who has already awakened— like me— but now sees the depth of this systemic corruption in an ever increasing and horrifying light. It is good to shine the light, but it is exhausting and painful work to hold the candle to the darkness. And it is so demoralizing and depressing to know that everything you’ve spent your entire life believing, working for, participating in has not only been a lie but contributed to your own pain and suffering.
So my purpose in writing this is to say: you’re not alone. When your arms are tired of carrying the torch, don’t fear that no one will be there to pick it up because we’ve all been noticing the dark corners and searching for a way to illuminate them. When you shine your light, you light ours. When we shine our light, we light yours. I hope that this inspires you to keep going and reaffirms in your heart and mind that your journey is not singular or in vain. It is hard to wake up, but it is harder to feel alone when you do. So just know, we are awakening together and we will rise and bring justice and love to this world yet and we will do it as a community.