by Baniester Taylor
Jimmy was sorting case files on his desk when his intercom buzzed.
"Mr. Johnson your 4:30 appointment is here."
"Please show her in Jasmine."
As his new client interred his office Jimmy started taking mental pictures of her physical essence: long blond hair, soft blue eyes, slender body, and mildly tan skin. "Please sit down", Jimmy said, as he motioned to the chair in front of his desk. "My name is Jimmy, Jimmy Johnson and yours?"
"Jocelyn Michael but most people call me Joy."
"What can I do for you Joy?" He asked, directing his focus to her face.
"I want to change my birth certificate."
"You don't need to see a lawyer to change your name. Ask Jasmine, the woman that brought you to my office, for a name change form; she's a paralegal and can answer any your questions you may have."
"I don't want to change my name; I want to change my race." Joy paused for a moment to let Jimmy digest her words before continuing. "I told the clerk at the County Records Office I wanted to change my birth certificate from Colored to Caucasian but he told me I couldn't because my mother is listed as Colored on my birth certificate. He said having a Colored parent automatically classifies me as bring Colored. Do I look Black to you?"
Jimmy shook his head no as she continued talking.
"My father is Caucasian and my mother is half Caucasian, one fourth Indian and one fourth Black. My ex-boyfriend is Caucasian. Our son, Kiel, is registered as Caucasian on his birth certificate based on my looks. After Kiel was born his father left us because he couldn't handle being the father of a mixed child. Mr. Johnson, my son has more white blood in him than anything else. I don't want my son to be confused about who he is. It will be so easier for us to live a white life. If the law says I am white then he is white, not black and nine tenths white but white."
They stared at each other for a moment before Jimmy broke the silence. "Make an appointment with Jasmine for next Wednesday, then I will give you a good idea of what I can do for you."
Joy started to leave his office then turned to face him. "Are you going to have trouble handling this case?"
"No! Why do you ask?" He said as he squirmed a little in his chair.
"When I came in here your eyes were focused on me; as I told you my story they started looking look waywardly. I'll see you Wednesday Mr. Jimmy Johnson." Without allowing him to say a word she turned and walked out of his office.
"I'm going to have to watch myself around her," Jimmy told himself, knowing that Joy had made a valid point.
When Joy approached Jasmine's desk to make an appointment Jasmine was polite but there was definitely a coldness that wasn't there before. Despite the negative eye contact from Jasmine, Joy smiled and wished Jasmine a nice day before walking out the door.
After Joy left, Jasmine immediately marched into Jimmy's office. Jimmy knew he was in trouble when he saw that her face had taken on a reddish hue.
"Why are you upset?" asked Jimmy.
"Your behavior was unprofessional. You almost tripped over your tongue when she came in here."
"I did not," he said, wondering if she was right. He sat back in his chair forcing a smug expression on his face.
"What's the matter are you jealous?"
"Hell no!" she said. They both started laughing, but their feelings were bruised.
"I'm going to need your help on this one, so I guest I can tell you what's going on. She wants to change her birth certificate status from Black to Caucasian."
Jasmine drew back but recovered fast. Putting on a professional demeanor she asked him what did he wanted her to do.
"Jasmine, find out what the laws are on race certification. Feed me the information as you get it. I want to give Joy a good idea of our chances for success next Wednesday"
"I'll get on it right away but I don't understand why some Black people reject being black. I have more Indian blood in me than black blood but when people ask me what nationality I am I always tell them I am Black "
"Jasmine, I'm not sure she is Black."
"What jerks," Joy said to herself walking to her car from the Legal Aid Office. Joy got in her car and drove off. She was on her way to pick up her son at his childcare center. The thought of him made her smile for a moment, but still mad at the way she was treated at the Legal Aide Office, she turned her radio up to a deafening pitch and drove at a breakneck pace.
Inside the One World Child Care Center she smiled seeing a young caregiver cooing over her son and started towards them when she noticed a black baby in a crib with a wet diaper. "That baby has a wet diaper," Joy informed the young caregiver as she took her son from her.
"His mother never brings enough diapers for him. We always end up using ours to make sure he is dry before she gets here. It's always something with those people," said the girl.
"Well, you better put one of your diapers on him now, before he develops a rash. You know how mad "those people" can get," Joy said.
"Thanks for the reminder," said the girl as she slowly headed towards the Black baby's crib. Joy gathered her son things and hurried out of the center in order not to loose her temper. When Joy got home she fed her son, played with him, then put him to bed. Next, she cleaned her kitchen. Exhausted and no longer able to ignore the day's events, she sat down and reflected on them and started crying.
Jasmine could not believe that she allowed herself to get mad over Jimmy's attraction to Joy. Jasmine decided to work over the weekend as a peace offering to Jimmy for her behavior. She likes working with him. They often spent time after work just discussing the law and its application to current events. She sometimes wondered what it would be like to go out with Jimmy on a real date, but her daydreams were always cut short with the realization that her family would not approve of him no matter how successful he is as a lawyer.
Over the weekend, Jasmine reviewed the city of Oakland, Alameda County, and California State codes on birth certification, but did not find any ruling that defined race by genetic blood pool mix. However, when she researched the Supreme Court cases she found several ruling that restricted the movement of Black people in the south based on the "color" of your blood. The one with the most profound impact was Plessy vs. Ferguson.
On June 7, 1892 Homer Plessy, was jailed for sitting in the "white" car rather than the "colored" car of an East Louisiana Railroad train. Even though Plessy was 1/8 black and 7/8 white, under Louisiana law, he was considered Black. Plessy sued the state of Louisiana saying that the state's Separate Cars Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Plessy lost in the lower courts on the grounds those railroads that only operated within a state are only subject to state law. Plessy took his case to the United States Supreme Court and lost again. With this ruling the United States Supreme Court not only upheld the separation of the races based on color of skin it also upheld it based on the color of blood. From then on, if one percent of a person blood is black that person is considered black even if they looked white. The Supreme Court overturned the 'separate but equal' laws of the land in Brown vs. the Board of Education decision in 1954, but the unwritten 'one percent rule' is still in effect.
By Sunday afternoon Jasmine was pleased with the weekend work she had done. She called a friend and arranged to meet for dinner in hopes of taking her mind off work, but no matter how charming her date was, her thoughts kept drifting back to Jimmy and Joy.
Monday morning Jimmy found Jasmine research notes and papers on his desk and quickly reviewed them. He called Jasmine into his office. As soon as he saw her he stood up. "Thanks Jasmine for all the work you did over the weekend. If you could spare some time to help me prepare for trail I'd appreciate it." "OK, I'll be back in about an hour," Jasmine said, and walked out of his office nonchalantly while beaming inside. All day Monday and Tuesday they worked closely together. Jimmy felt at ease around Jasmine even though he overheard her tell the receptionist that he wasn't her type. He accepted it as faith.
Wednesday morning, Joy went straight to the legal aid office after dropping Kiel off at the child care center. She vowed to demand another lawyer if thing went as they did the last time; but she was pleasantly surprised to find Jimmy waiting for her at the front door.
"Good morning Joy, most people don't get here until 9 AM but we do try to make accommodations for our client's schedule. Let's go into my office. I've asked Jasmine to sit in on our meeting. She did the research for the case and will be handling most of the paper work for me. I want her to get a first hand prospective of what is needed."
"That will be fine," Joy said.
As they entered his office Jasmine was going over some notes. When she saw Joy she stood up, smiled warmly, said hello, and held out her hand. Joy shook it cautiously.
After every one sat down Jimmy started speaking. "Joy, there is no California City, county, or state statue that cover the race of a child based on your situation. However, several Supreme Court rulings, over a hundred years old, have laid out the frameworks for the one per cent black ruling that most people follow today; but, they are not in line with current civil rights laws. To win this case we may have to take it to the Supreme Court. But, we also have a good chance of winning on a local level in a diverse city like Oakland without publicity. I'll list you as Jane Doe on the court document to protect your privacy."
Joy listens with increasing anxiety. "I do not want this case to go the Supreme Court. I'd rather drop the case than have my son exposed by the press. I promise you the first sign of trouble I will drop the case." Joy looked at them both very suspiciously before commenting. "To take a case like this to the Supreme Court and win it would make your career. Why should I trust you?" Before she finishes speaking, Jasmine eyes light up like a cornered cat.
"I have worked with Jimmy for a year and during that time he has never lost a case. I personally know of an offer he had to join a big law firm but he turned it down to stay here. I do not think you have any reason to worry about his motives or integrity," said Jasmine.
Jimmy put his hand on Jasmine arm to direct her attention to him. He felt the beat of her heart as blood rushed through her veins. He gave her a quick smile for reassurance then directed his attention to Joy. "I will file a no disclosure clause with your petition. Now, we are going to have to do some research on your parents' birth records to verify your heritage. We need access to your medical record and need to run a genetic test on you to see which genetic pool you match up with best. I'm going to get some coffee would you like some."
"Yes, I'll take it black," Joy said.
"No thanks," Jasmine said, as he looked her way.
When Jimmy left the room Jasmine started reviewing her notes. "You don't like me do you?" Joy asked.
"I do not dislike you," Jasmine replied without looking up.
"I am only trying to protect my son. You have no idea how hard it is to hold on to two identities."
"Yes I do," Jasmine said looking up at Joy. I have more Indian than African American blood in me. My father was three fourths Seminole Indian and one fourth Black and my mother is mixed with Caucasian, Indian, and Black blood. I have felt the privileges, isolation, and rejection my heritage brings with it. Yet, I choose to be Black."
The room was silent for a moment.
"Is Jimmy married?" Joy asked.
"Are you two a couple?"
"No! Our relationship is strictly professional and none of your business. This conversation is over."
The room was silent for a moment.
"If he is what you say he is, why are you letting him get away? Is he not 'black' enough for you?"
Before Jasmine could respond Jimmy walked back into the room and handed Joy's coffee to her, "I hope you like it," he said.
"I'm sure I will," she replied with a smile.
By 8:30 AM Joy was heading to her car for work feeling better about her case and her lawyer.
"I do not like her," Jasmine told Jimmy once Joy left the office building. "She thinks she knows everything."
"She's just concern about her kid," he replied.
"Well I wish she would keep her nose out of our business,"
Gently touching her shoulder Jimmy said, "Jasmine, let's get busy."
During the next few weeks, Joy and Jasmine grew more tolerant of each other as they worked together gathering background data for the case. One evening, after working hours, Joy brought her son Kiel into the office while she signed some paper Jasmine had prepared for her signature.
"Why do you believe Kiel will not develop Black physical traits when he gets older?" Jasmine asked Joy after searching for signs of blackness in Kiel's face and not finding any.
"I had him tested for Sickle-cell anemia and other Black heredity blood traits two months after he was born. The test came back negative. The people in the clinic must of thought I was trying to make sure his father wasn't Black because they were pretty rude to me, but I wouldn't give them the privilege of letting their nasty comments get my down."
Jasmine looked at Joy contentiously.
"I don't dislike black people," Joy continued. "When I was in high school I dated a black guy, I mean a dark skin guy from my neighborhood".
"So you date black guys," Jasmine said in a frivolous tone.
Joy continued. "He looked a lot like Jimmy but darker. We went through hell from black and white people, who didn't like seeing us together, even our parents. I was too white looking for his parents and he was too dark for mine. But we were in love and when you love someone, you are willing to go through hell to be together. We were going to get married but he was killed in Vietnam. After his funeral I left home and only returned for my parents' funeral. Even then people tried to snub their nose at me."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Jasmine said.
"I'm sorry too, if I misjudged your feelings towards Jimmy; sometimes I come off as a smart-ass. Maybe I misjudged his feeling about both of us as well. Jimmy seams like a real nice guy. If it wasn't for my son I might risk going through hell again, at least for one night," Joy said with a smile.
As Joy headed to the door she turned around to address Jasmine. "By the way, my fiancée was also named Kiel." With those parting remarks swimming around in Jasmine head, her face turned red as she watched Joy walk away.
As Jasmine drove home that night she thought about her Aunt Mary and how her mother's family talked her out of marrying the dark skin young man she loved. Now, after two failed marriages, she lives alone. Jasmine wondered if that could happen to her.
The evening before Joy's case went to trail Jimmy, Jasmine, and Joy met to go over court procedures. Near the end of Jimmy mock presentation Jasmine started yawning, exhausted from the late nights she and Jimmy had spent working o the case. "Jasmine go home and get some rest. I will close up shop tonight," Jimmy told her.
"No I can make it," Jasmine said in the middle of another yawn.
Jimmy looked at Jasmine with concern on his face.
"OK!" Jasmine said as she started gathering her things.
"Don't worry Jasmine, I will make sure Jimmy gets his rest tonight," Joy said with a smile. Jasmine did not smile back.
After Jasmine left Jimmy briefed Joy on what he wanted her to do. "Tomorrow, I do not want you to attract attention to yourself, wear something plain, very little makeup, simple jewelry, hair understated, and no hat or shades. Do not sit next to us when you come in. I will try to get this done without you having to take the stand. If you must take the stand, stick to the facts. If I see any reporters in the court I will ask for a continuation so do not get excited if that happens. The Judge will not render a judgment tomorrow so after she dismisses the case wait awhile after we leave before leaving. We will meet back here afterwards. Do you have all that?" Jimmy asked.
"Every word," Joy said. "I have to leave now to pick up my son. Before I go, I just want you to know I appreciate what you and Jasmine are doing for me." She walked up to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"You are welcome," he said as he took a step back.
"I'll see you tomorrow," Joy said as she turned and left.
Joy entered the courtroom around 3:30 the next day. Jimmy and Jasmine were already sitting three rows ahead of her. When the Bailiff called Joy's case number, her heart started beating fast and loud. However, it quickly settled down when Jimmy started presenting her case to the Judge, an elderly black woman. Jimmy did not miss a beat. He provided documentation proving that her father was Caucasian and her mother was half Caucasian and only one fourth Black. He presented medical records showing that her hair texture, blue eyes, complexion, narrow nose and mouth did not match those physical feathers commonly associated with the Black race. He presented her genetic record stating that her gene pool had more elements in common with Caucasian than Black people and a bone marrow test stating that she fit in the Caucasian donor pool.
"Your Honor," Jimmy concluded, "in 1954 the United States Supreme Court case 'Brown Vs the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas' signaled the end of the 'separate but equal' laws in America. Unfortunately, it did not end the 'one percent black' litany test for mandatory inclusion into the Black race, a byproduct of 'Plessy vs. Ferguson' 1892. Today we are asking this court to study the evidence we have presented and base your judgment on it; not the unjust ruling based on social bigotry from the past. To force an identify on a human being that is not compatible with his/her physical and biological makeup is as cruel to the psychological well being of that person as it would be cruel and physically injurious to place a cat in a cage with a rabbit dog."
"Mr. Johnson are you going to call any witnesses?" the Judge inquired.
"Your Honor if you feel I have presented enough evidence to allow you to render a fare and impartial judgment I do not wish to call any witnesses."
"Well then Mr. Johnson, I will send you my verdict in the mail. You are free to go."
"Thank you Your Honor"
Back at the legal aid office Jimmy, Jasmine, and Joy regrouped to debrief the court proceedings. "It went well," Jimmy told Joy. "The Judge did not ask any question that challenged what we were trying to say. I did not see any news reporters in the courtroom or in the halls. As soon as the verdict gets here I will call you and we will open it together."
"I just want to thank both of you again for the effort you put into my case," Joy said. "I have a babysitter for tonight so I would like to take you guys out to dinner."
"I'm game," Jimmy said, "but its my treat, what about you Jasmine?"
"I'm in, just let me checks my answering machine." When she came back she looked disappointed. "I won't be able to make it, a family emergency."
"Anything I can do?" Jimmy asked.
"No," Jasmine replied.
"Gee we are going to miss you," Joy said as she reaching out to hug Jasmine.
"She must be really worried about her family; I've never seen her face that red before. Let's postpone the celebration until Jasmine can join us," Jimmy suggested.
"If you wish to," Joy concurred.
Jimmy walked Joy to her car but it wouldn't start. She called her mechanic and arranged for him to meet her there the next day.
"I'll give you a ride home tonight and bring you back tomorrow," Jimmy said.
"Thanks, it looks like I am always in your debt."
When they arrived at Joy's place she asked him if he would like to come in for something to drink.
"No thanks, I'm really beat," Jimmy said.
"Tell me something. "Do you dislike me for what I am doing?" she asked.
"No, in some ways I think it's a brave thing you are doing. It takes resolve to forget who you are and take on a new identity, in a new city."
"Did you believe anything you said today or were you just playing the roll of a lawyer? I do not want to forget that piece of me that is black. I have some good memories of that piece of me. When I reestablish myself, I will not hide from Black people. I will make sure my son is exposed to and respect black culture."
"Will his grandmother be a part of that black culture you teach him about?"
"I may sound hypocritical but I have a reason for doing what I am doing." Joy jumped out of his car. "Don't bother to pick me up tomorrow. I'll take a cab"
When Jimmy entered his office the next day Jasmine was waiting for him. "What happen last night," she demanded. Why is her car out front? Did you sleep with her?"
"No I did not sleep with her. Her car broke down last night and I gave her a ride home. Then I went home. She is going to take a cab here this morning to meet her mechanic. Are there any more questions?"
"No, Jasmine said as some of the stress in her face dissipated. "I need to take a few days off."
"That's fine, I will take care of the paperwork, just hurry back." Jasmine left his office, gathered a few things from her desk then left the building without saying goodbye.
During the next few days, Jimmy worked around the office on autopilot. Then the Court letter came giving him an excuse to contact Jasmine and Joy. He asked the office secretary to set up a meeting that afternoon for Joy, Jasmine and himself to review the ruling. Joy agreed to meet with him at 1:00 PM but Jasmine did not answer her phone. Joy arrived at 12:55 PM and went straight to Jimmy's office. He was waiting for her with the letter in his hand.
"Lets open it," she said.
Jimmy opened it and read the content to himself. "Congratulations your birth certificate will be changed to reclassify you as Caucasian."
"Thank you; thank you very much. I will be leaving Oakland in a few days I hope everything goes well for you."
"That night you said you wanted your son to know black people I hope he gets to know you some day. I'll have the office secretary make a copy of this letter for my record. I will give you the original."
"That will be fine. Where is Jasmine? Why isn't she here?" Joy asked looking around for the first time.
"She decided to take a few days off."
"Was she upset when she saw my car in front of your office that morning?"
Jimmy nodded his head indicating yes.
"Jimmy, don't be a jerk. If you like Jasmine, tell her how you feel about her; she won't disappoint you." She kissed him on the check then walked out of his office.
After Joy left, Jimmy got in his car and drove to Jasmine's apartment.