On Sunday, a Long Island dermatologist was found dead in the lobby of a Chelsea apartment with bruising on her neck after a night of partying. Though police initially thought the wife and mother of three may have been murdered, it was eventually determined that Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny died of a drug overdose.
It’s a tragic tale, but pretty much an open and shut case. And yet, days later “cops are still looking for answers,” according to The Daily Beast, as if the statement from police which said the findings at the time of time of death were “consistent with cocaine use” and “there is nothing at this point to suggest criminal activity” isn’t enough.
And though it may not be P.C. to say it, we know why it isn’t: Cerveny is white, upper class, and “beautiful,” as The Daily Beast editorialized in their coverage. Behavior like hers, drinking with friends all night in the city; snorting cocaine in a hotel room; reportedly being dragged to the front door of a building by two male friends who unsuccessfully tried to revive her, called the cops and disappeared once EMS arrived; and being found fully clothed but with her underwear in her purse, isn’t what we’d expect from a white woman of her means. It’s a tragic tale we’d expect to happen to someone of a lower socio-economic class and a darker hue. A tale that would’ve barely made a mention in the Daily News and likely would’ve received little police attention had this person fit the latter two descriptions. But because Cerveny was doctor, assistant professor, wife, mother, and white for some reason an explanation beyond having a drug addition or liking to party must be found.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley broke down the white privilege that underlines the coverage of Cerveny’s death in a post on The Root, writing:
That her story has garnered so much ink and bandwidth is a privilege on its own. Cerveny was white, blond and affluent, and because of this, her story is perceived as important and worth telling. We all know that when women of color, particularly black and brown women, suffer similarly tragic endings, their stories don’t often make headlines. On the few occasions that theirs do, they certainly aren’t afforded much sympathy or offered kind euphemisms to shine up their messy behavior.
In the articles about Cerveny’s death, it’s been important for writers to mention that she was a mother and wife. Both facts, but both used for empathy and excuses. Journalists liked to mention that she was a beauty queen, though that has nothing to do with her demise. It’s added to describe her fall from grace and to highlight her striking looks. Her occupation, a dermatologist with a thriving practice, is used to elevate her as somehow not like other women—poor women—who abuse the same drug Cerveny is suspected of using.
Her career is also used as an excuse of sorts, the implication being that the pressures of her job (and the demands of being a mom of three) were the underlying reason the suburban woman wound up drinking with a friend in the big city most of the evening, then supposedly doing cocaine elsewhere after hours.
In the story of any woman of color, writers would wonder or even speculate about the nature of her relationship with a man she partied with, who was not her husband. That man who took her to an apartment at 4 a.m. is identified as an HBO producer (he sold a documentary on the porn industry to the cable network). As if an HBO-film-producing friend who does drugs with someone else’s wife is somehow better than when Pookie, Ray Ray and Tyrone do the same.
And the apartment in which they did their drugs? The pair stopped by an apartment of a friend, a man nicknamed “Pepsi,” because a coke dealer who went by “Coke” would be too obvious, the Daily Beast explained. This man is never called a drug dealer. Or a thug.
Cerveny’s death is being treated as some sort of anomaly when, for many — perhaps the more jaded who are well versed in white collar drug use — the 38-year-old was no outlier and, according to the facts, no victim. And yet, the media has more sympathy for her than the handfuls of black and brown folks who lose their lives every day through no fault of their own. That, my friends, is white privilege.
Image Credits: Facebook/NY Daily News