The Power of Perception

“But they don’t know that,” Dad said. “What they see is what he presents. And it sounds like he presented himself as just another—”

In the chapter called Saturday: Rashad, Rashad’s parents argue after his father asks Rashad if his pants are sagging. Rashad’s mother cuts his father off as he begins to suggest that it is Rashad’s fault that others see him as a criminal rather than as the good student that he is. Not only does Rashad’s father expect his sons to conform to society’s notion of innocence, but he goes on to suggest that Rashad could not possibly have gotten in trouble if he had followed his father’s advice. His father’s perception of how the world works does not align with Rashad’s reality, and his father’s superficial judgment angers Rashad even more than that of the store clerk or the police officer.

“You talk about wanting to be somebody, you talk about basketball, you talk about making your family proud, but then you act like this. What do you think people are going to think of you now?”

In the chapter called Saturday: Quinn, Quinn’s mother confronts Quinn about the bourbon he stole, but she seems more upset about how people’s perception of him will affect his future. At this point, she has no reason to think that Quinn does not want to make his family proud, and so far, he has been successful on the basketball team. Much like Rashad’s father, Quinn’s mother assumes that her son’s slip-ups will forever taint him in the eyes of society and doom him to an uncertain future. As the sole parent of two boys, she does not have the luxury of giving her older son the benefit of the doubt. She needs for him to be the kind of man his father was and needs him to embrace her version of reality in order to do so.

“Man, listen, I had to make sure we controlled as much of the narrative as possible. If I ain’t send that photo in, they would’ve dug all through the Internet for some picture of you looking crazy.”

Spoony understands the power of the media to shape public perception, and in the chapter called Sunday: Rashad, he explains to Rashad why he provided the media with a photo of Rashad in his ROTC uniform. Instead of blaming Rashad for failing to conform to traditional ideals about appearance like their father does, Spoony seeks to present Rashad in the best possible light to the media. In a situation that seems to be spiraling out of control, controlling the narrative is an important step for establishing Rashad’s innocence.

Self-Interest versus the Greater Good

“If all you think about are the scouts, all you think about is yourself. Then we don’t win. Then nobody wins.”

In the chapter called Monday: Quinn, Coach Carney kicks off his post-practice pep talk by alluding to the distractions from the scouts and the media coverage and entreats the boys to leave their distractions at the door. Ultimately, he will tamp down any attempts to even discuss Rashad’s situation, let alone allow the question of Rashad’s innocence divide the team. In Coach Carney’s world, the only thing that matters is the success of the collective team, and for him that success is directly at odds with any individual’s personal agenda. He is focused solely on the team and will not let a matter of social justice interfere with their ability to win.

“You think you are taking the moral high road, but what does this all mean for the rest of your family, Quinn? What does it mean for me and your brother?”

In the chapter called Thursday: Quinn, when Quinn declares his intention to protest via the shirt he wears to school, he sets aside his own self-interest for the greater good. However, his mother does not applaud his conviction. She tells Quinn that this is not his fight and that his stance is a direct threat to their nuclear family. She is surprised that her younger son Willy has seen the video of Rashad’s beating, but this is an easier pill for her to swallow than accepting that Paul Galluzzo has made a fool, and possibly a criminal, out of himself. She places her own needs above the “moral high road” and views any dissent from her son as a personal assault.

“‘Look, if there are people who are scared of the police every day of their lives,’ Jill said, determined, ‘I’m going to live in fear of them for at least one day to say that I don’t think that’s right.’”

In the chapter called Friday: Quinn, Quinn is nervous about what will happen at the protest when he sees a tank-like police vehicle on his way to school, and he shares his fears with Jill. Jill is scared too, but she realizes that her fear is just a small taste of what Black people experience every day. Jill’s family is already upset with her for her views and she sees no reason to refrain from making her views public and joining with others. By going against her family’s wishes, Jill hopes to make the world a better place for all families, not just hers.

Race and Social Class

“White boy like you can just walk away whenever you want. Everyone just sees you as Mr. All-American Boy, and you can just keep on walking, thinking about other things.”

In the chapter called Thursday: Quinn, Quinn thinks he is having a give-and-take discussion with Rashad’s friend English when the two teammates lift weights together. English is quick to point out that Rashad’s innocence is not up for debate, no matter what Quinn may think about Paul. Again and again, English gives Quinn examples of the assumptions Quinn makes about Rashad and the privilege he takes for granted. English ends the conversation when he walks off in a huff, but his words help Quinn begin to understand that he still doesn’t understand everything about race and class. When Guzzo approaches him afterward to thank him for sticking up for Paul, Quinn brushes him off, unsettled by the revelations in his conversation with English.

“I don’t think most people think they’re racist. But every time something like this happens, you could, like you said, say, ‘Not my problem.’ You could say, ‘It’s a one-time thing.’ Every time it happened.”

Jill and Quinn are hanging out at his house in the chapter called Thursday: Quinn, discussing Rashad and finally describing his beating as “police brutality.” When they ponder how the situation might have differed if Rashad were white and the lady in the store were Black, it takes them several minutes to admit to themselves that Rashad was a victim of racism. Quinn wonders if his hesitancy makes him racist, too. Jill doesn’t castigate him with her answer, but she doesn’t let him off the hook either. In striking this balance, she allows Quinn to consider the ways in which he might be racist.

“It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself! But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!”

Tooms reads this line from Invisible Man in the chapter called Wednesday: Quinn, and thwarts the school administration’s attempt to silence the voices of Black men. Mrs. Tracey is in tears as she announces that she is not allowed to continue her lessons on this seminal work about a Black man’s experience, and watches in silence as her students, one by one, read the words that she is forbidden to teach. By taking a stand against the school administration’s censorship, the students are ultimately standing up for the past and present victims of police brutality. Ironically, the school becomes more unified than divided because of this banned book.