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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Jervis

Day 101

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

While making arrangements at the funeral home, the director waited until Constance’s father left the room and then leaned across the table. She whispered, “For the death certificate, we have to put a race. What would you like me to put?”

I looked out the door and realized the funeral director was asking me, white woman to white woman, because she was afraid to ask in front of Constance’s father.

This is when you need a flag on the play. No white person should ever pull aside another white person to chat about anything that purposefully excludes person(s) of color. If you want to say something you think might be offensive, don’t. That ping of anxiety your feeling is your brain telling you to shut up. If what you’re saying must be said because a government form demands it, be brave and saying in front of everyone.

Government forms shouldn’t ask for “race” because there is only one human race. Constance was born in Chicago. At the time of her death, she lived in Highland Park.

“You can just put white. It doesn’t matter at this point,” I said.

To my recollection that is what was put on her birth certificate forms. When that form was completed by a hospital employee there was two white women in the room, myself and my mom, caring for a baby. She didn’t ask Constance’s race. She looked at the jaundice baby with beautiful black curly hair and decided she was Caucasian.

The funeral director said, “Okay, I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to assume because some people care.”

What a bizarre understatement, I thought.

Apparently, she’d missed all of human history and the news in 2018. I wanted to give a lecture. Unfortunately, you don’t have the energy to be a pompous professor when you are at a funeral home arranging your only child’s service.

“Yes, some people do care about skin color,” I concurred.

The moment Constance’s father returned to the room, I said, “She needs to know Constance’s race for the death certificate. I said ‘Caucasian’ Is that okay?” He said, “That’s fine,” and we moved on to the next detail of the arrangements. If it can’t bring Constance back, it didn’t matter.

When Constance passed away at age eight, I heard two racial slurs used to describe her. They were words said about her to her mother’s face. I can’t image what was said behind my back. Constance was called a “half breed,” and the other word is so offensive, I will not be typing it. I don’t know what you are supposed to say when you are a white woman hearing hate speech used to describe your child. Whatever I yelled back was certainly not graceful. Even now, thinking about it makes me so angry.

Constance did not fear people who looked or acted differently than she did. I have so many reasons to be proud of her.


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