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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Standing with Rachel

 photo RachelJeantel_zpsf8187750.jpg

Nineteen year old Rachel Jeantel, witness for the prosecution in the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin became the center of an internet frenzy of hatefulness, simply because she stood her ground on the witness stand against the attorney for the defense Don West.

The attacks against her have been based on her skin color, her weight, her inability to read “cursive” writing (which they don’t teach in school where she is), and her use of and facility with the English language.

She is grew up speaking Haitian KreyĆ²l, French, and Spanish.  English is her fourth language.

Yet she is excoriated for being “dumb”.  

But her biggest crime in the eyes of many of her vicious and vocal critics is her physical appearance.  

The intersections of racism and sexism writ large.  

Watching the video of her testimony, I sat cheering her on as she failed to wilt or crumble under pressure.  

I grew increasingly angry reading despicable internet comments denigrating  her existence. But then, that’s par for the course, since Trayvon Martin has been tried and found guilty of being black by racist twitterati and comment section sewer dwellers.

No surprise here.  

What I want to applaud today were those who are standing with this young sister.  The racist voices are loud and raucous, but this young woman, whose only “crime” was being a good friend of Treyvon’s and the happenstance of being on the phone with him as he was stalked and confronted by George Zimmerman, and having gone through the trauma of hearing her friend murdered.

Sad that Trayvon himself is being tried in the court of public opinion, as is his friend.

Trayvon is dead and can’t speak for himself.  Rachel Jeantel is alive and will survive this media hatefest.  

I want to add my support, and share some love today.  We can all do the same.  

WORD (Women Organized to Resist & Defend) has a tumblr web page standing with Rachel.

Other bloggers, like Khadijah Costley White have written open letters to her.

A Letter To Rachel Jeantel, The Prosecution’s Key Witness In The George Zimmerman Trial

She opened with

Dear Rachel,

I write this as I watch you testifying, tightening your lips, grinding your teeth in an attempt to be stoic, to not break down while you recount the grisly, too-soon murder of your friend. It was probably the most terrifying moment of your life. I can’t imagine listening, helpless, while my friend was stalked and murdered, panicked and afraid. You told him to run. You thought it would keep him safe. What could’ve been going through your mind that day? Did you worry when the phone was cut off? When Trayvon didn’t call you back or return any of your missed calls?

What could you have possibly felt when you found out that Travyon had been killed? Were you able to sleep that night? Have you been able to sleep since? “He sounded tired,” you said today on the stand. You do, too, Rachel. So tired.

I want to write you an apology for this whole world, even if it’s not my place to apologize. I’m so sorry that you’re sitting on the stand right now, being interrogated like a criminal instead of another victim. I’m so sorry that people are judging you, fixated more on your beautiful brown skin, your carefully applied make-up, your body, your being, than your trauma and your pain. I’m sorry that you were born into a country where a man can pursue and kill a black boy, your friend, and go home the same night with the blessings of law enforcement officers. I’m sorry that you’ve been retraumatized, stigmatized, defamed, and attacked just because you were unlucky enough to love a black boy, to share time with him, to be the last one he ever called.

I’m so sorry for your loss.

Mychal Denzel Smith, posted this at The Nation

Thank You, Rachel Jeantel, closing with

Rachel Jeantel isn’t a Hollywood actress. She’s not a trained professional. She doesn’t testify in court regularly. She’s a young black woman missing her friend. She showed up to court to give all the information she had as to what happened the night he died.

“Are you listening?” she asked West at highly contentious point her testimony where it seemed he had either lost interest or chosen to ignore the things she was saying. How many young black women could ask that question to the world daily? We should be listening more. We should hear what the Rachels of the world have to say. It’s unclear how Rachel’s testimony will affect the jury and the ultimate outcome, whether they’ll read her as hostile and uncooperative. No matter what, though, Rachel stood and defended herself and Trayvon (and frankly, many other black youth) against the condescension, against silencing, and against the character attacks. For that, she should be commended and thanked.

Thank you, Rachel Jeantel.

Our own Joan Mar, spoke of Rachel in Little Girls Are Made of Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

I heard her and I saw her. I saw a young woman who was not about to be pushed around by officers of the court. She seemed to have a lot of respect for the judge  but not so much for anyone else.

At times I grinned as I recognized her sass. She was direct and forceful when she needed to be. She was honest. Seeing her friend’s dead body would be just too traumatic for her so she lied to his family. She didn’t want to talk to LEOs so she lied about her age hoping that they’d leave her alone. She didn’t think she needed to tell every little detail to the people who first interviewed her so she told them only the bare bones of what she heard. She didn’t want to offend Trayvon’s mom so she edited his last words.

I heard her and I understood her. I saw her.

I saw her with all of her fabulousness decked out for the court. This was important to her. She really didn’t want to be there but if she had to be, then she wanted to represent.  

Joan goes on to explore the phenomena of dark skin and the self-hate engendered in us as a legacy of slavery and the supremacy of “whiteness”.

It’s worth mentioning again here, that while all this was going on, Oprah’s channel premiered Dark Girls

Dark Girls is a fascinating and controversial documentary film that goes underneath the surface to explore the prejudices that dark-skinned women face throughout the world. It explores the roots of classism, racism and the lack of self-esteem within a segment of cultures that span from America to the most remote corners of the globe. Women share their personal stories, touching on deeply ingrained beliefs and attitudes of society, while allowing generations to heal as they learn to love themselves for who they are.

Colorization, skin-color and the significance of shades of color in our community has been one of my primary areas of study for years.  Back in 1983, I wrote the script for a PBS docudrama “Color”directed by Warrington Hudlin, which dealt with the same issues.

I’ve addressed it in relationship to Michelle Obama.

We need to keep fighting the ugliness of internalized hate, and external disdain for black women, and black people.

Stand with Rachel. Keep fighting for justice for Trayvon, and for us all.

Crossposted from Black Kos


  1. DeniseVelez

    has been very distressing for me.

    I realize that Defense lawyers are paid to conduct a vigorous defense – but this goes far beyond that. And ugly  public response is yet another slap in the face.  

  2. HappyinVT

    real life) and the CSI franchises have really screwed up our legal system.  We’ve come to expect people to act like actors or actresses on these shows do.  Real life it messy and testifying in a trial of any kind, unless you do it on a regular basis, is stressful.

    I had to testify at a custody hearing for a friend and I was a nervous wreck.  I couldn’t imagine testifying during a high-profile case that involved her very good friend being murdered.  Then people are going to add to it by commenting on every little thing about this poor girl ~ even her bangs.  It truly is a shame.

    And we wonder why people don’t want to get involved.

  3. Avilyn

    but I read a few of the articles Yas linked to on GOS regarding Rachel and her treatment in the media.  Ye gods, the comments in the articles alone (and on some diaries over there as well) are just …  well, words fail me.  Disgusting.  Awful.  etc.

    Thank you for posting this along with some of the extra background (I hadn’t heard anywhere else that she speak FOUR! languages, for instance).  Much appreciated.

  4. Portlaw

    But her biggest crime in the eyes of many of her vicious and vocal critics is her physical appearance.  

    The intersections of racism and sexism writ large.

    When I first saw the NYT’s coverage of the trial I was so impressed with Ms. Jeantel. I thought her answers to the defense lawyers were intelligent and I was very sympathetic to her situation. She had been talking on the phone with a very good friend, Mr. Martin, who was about to be murdered. That situation is inconceivable to me in its horror. She corrected some inconsistencies with previous testimony but, it seemed to me, she did not at that time have an uncle or a father or a mother who was a lawyer and would step in and prevent her from being harassed in earlier interviews. The prosecution should have helped her. I thought she was clear and didn’t speak psycho babble and appeared honest. I also thought she was dressed appropriately for a court appearance. She was wearing a top or dress that showed no cleavage and her hair was neatly done. I was, therefore, stunned at the comments about her language and appearance. Am still stunned. I admired and still admire her so much. It makes me sick to think that my fellow citizens think like that. How could they?  This is a murder trial. If Zimmerman walks, my greatest fear is how this fine young woman will take it. This on top of Scotus makes for a very bleak day with the 4th of July around the corner.

  5. Pam from Calif

    Tom Joyner Morning Show commentator Roland Martin talks with Rachel Jeantel’s attorney Rod Vereen about the 19-year-old’s crucial testimony in the George Zimmerman case, the misrepresentation of her character in the media and he reveals exclusive details about her friendship with Trayvon.

    According to Vereen, Martin was one of the good guys who did not ridicule the teenager. Vereen recounted a prior interview with Jeantel where she explained their bond, “she said he was one of the few guys that never made fun of me, about the way I dressed, about the way I talked, about my hair, about my complexion… about my weight.”

  6. Michelle Obama spoke to this a bit in Africa:

    “So while people are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair — and whether we cut it or not … we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see. And eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we’re standing in front of.”

    Our culture looks at women and immediately criticizes (or celebrates) their looks and weight and ignores their words and ideas. It is a real problem.

  7. Diana in NoVa

    As it happens, I’ve been staying away from the Zimmerman trial coverage because of the way it’s being sensationalized.  I therefore missed a lot of this discussion, but thank you for laying it out here–much appreciated.

    Women are hated all over the world, in every country, and this one is no exception.  I hope Rachel will acquire some friends and allies who will help her get through this, and that after this is over, she can live a normal life.

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