The "Unsophisticated" Mirror of Rachel Jeantel

July 22, 2013
By

By Lauren G. Parker

The prosecution needed to represent Rachel Jeantel as much as they represented Trayvon Martin because her assumed unintelligence and subsequent worthlessness were inadvertently assigned to him. Aware of this, prosecution attorney Bernie de la Rionda attempted, but failed, to insist upon her credibility in his closing statements. Before queering a Dr. King quote by saying that she “should not be judged by the color of her personality but by the content of her testimony,” he told the jury that she was “a little unsophisticated” and “uneducated.”Rachel_Jeantel_rtr_img

By insulting her to gain credibility, he complied with the idea that she was insignificant and by default, so was Martin’s life. Such inherently assumed superiority over Jeantel from the prosecution’s closing statement, the defense’s humiliating tactics and venomous commentary from cyber voyeurs was deeply remnant of a passage from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in which Morrison stated:

 All of us—all who knew her—felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us; her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used—to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.

Afraid to embrace those realities, many dwelled on their critiques of Jeantel’s dialect. Here, too, there was a deep politic that neither the talented-tenth, code-switching middle class Black folks who claimed to be ashamed by her nor those who maintained the racist ideology that she was merely another ignorant, fat black woman, could bear to acknowledge. James Baldwin’s 1979 essay, “If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What is?” best presented this truth where he states,

…language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.

He further explains,

Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define the other–and, in this case, the other is refusing to be defined by a language that has never been able to recognize [them]. People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.

Just as many have never considered that Trayvon Martin, who we know for a fact was followed by George Zimmerman, was standing his own ground, many who shared Juror B-37’s condescending viewpoint and “felt bad” for Rachel who was “using phrases [they] never heard before” have not considered themselves ignorant for not understanding her. Those same individuals may never challenge the absurdity of having deemed themselves the standard of comparison; nor will they realize that they misnamed her “uneducated” in order to hide from the paralyzing fear of a heavy-set, dark skinned teenager unwilling to bow to their assumed superiority.

Rachel Jeantel cannot be reduced to just a witness in a popular trial because what she endured in court and from the media were private acts made public: the mocking and silencing of black women and girl’s stories as well as the devaluing of their traumas. In response to critics, Jeantel shared with Piers Morgan that  “[My critics] should be appreciating [me]. You should learn from this situation. If it happened to you or your family, would you step up or would you just say ‘oh, it ain’t my business’?” To my mind, she has remained brilliant and strong in spite of the overwhelming grief of losing a friend and then being publicly labeled as ignorant–as a national embarrassment–because she, like James Baldwin, knows that  “it is [never] the black child’s language that is in question, it is not [their] language that is despised: It is [their] experience.”

______________________________________

L_G_Parker-The_'Unsophisticated'_Mirror_of_Rachel_Jeantel-lgpLauren G. Parker is an undergraduate, intended Creative Writing major at George Mason University. Currently, she is co-coaching Richmond, Virginia’s internationally competing youth slam poetry team.

 

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52 Responses to The "Unsophisticated" Mirror of Rachel Jeantel

  1. zenzi on July 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Wow, I couldn’t have said it any better than this. Thanks for making it plain.

    • faith on July 25, 2013 at 8:58 am

      YOU are beautiful! Thank you!

  2. zenzi on July 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Wow, I couldn’t have said it any better than this. Thanks for making it plain.

    • faith on July 25, 2013 at 8:58 am

      YOU are beautiful! Thank you!

  3. zenzi on July 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Wow, I couldn’t have said it any better than this. Thanks for making it plain.

    • faith on July 25, 2013 at 8:58 am

      YOU are beautiful! Thank you!

  4. zenzi on July 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Wow, I couldn’t have said it any better than this. Thanks for making it plain.

    • faith on July 25, 2013 at 8:58 am

      YOU are beautiful! Thank you!

  5. Anthony Amos on July 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Truly a tremendous perspective on this subject and on Ms Jeantel. Controlling language, controlling minds. Love it

  6. Anthony Amos on July 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Truly a tremendous perspective on this subject and on Ms Jeantel. Controlling language, controlling minds. Love it

  7. Anthony Amos on July 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Truly a tremendous perspective on this subject and on Ms Jeantel. Controlling language, controlling minds. Love it

  8. Anthony Amos on July 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Truly a tremendous perspective on this subject and on Ms Jeantel. Controlling language, controlling minds. Love it

  9. Anti_Intellect (@Anti_Intellect) on July 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Thank you for writing this important essay, and making the connection between what happened Jeantel and our own hangups over the poisonous politics of respectability. That you connected her treatment to warnings from our ancestors Morrison and Baldwin, is all the more brilliant. People will gain a lot from the connections that you made in this post. Keep up the great work!

  10. Anti_Intellect (@Anti_Intellect) on July 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Thank you for writing this important essay, and making the connection between what happened Jeantel and our own hangups over the poisonous politics of respectability. That you connected her treatment to warnings from our ancestors Morrison and Baldwin, is all the more brilliant. People will gain a lot from the connections that you made in this post. Keep up the great work!

  11. Anti_Intellect (@Anti_Intellect) on July 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Thank you for writing this important essay, and making the connection between what happened Jeantel and our own hangups over the poisonous politics of respectability. That you connected her treatment to warnings from our ancestors Morrison and Baldwin, is all the more brilliant. People will gain a lot from the connections that you made in this post. Keep up the great work!

  12. Anti_Intellect (@Anti_Intellect) on July 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Thank you for writing this important essay, and making the connection between what happened Jeantel and our own hangups over the poisonous politics of respectability. That you connected her treatment to warnings from our ancestors Morrison and Baldwin, is all the more brilliant. People will gain a lot from the connections that you made in this post. Keep up the great work!

  13. Tyrone on July 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    This is a very insightful article.

  14. Tyrone on July 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    This is a very insightful article.

  15. Tyrone on July 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    This is a very insightful article.

  16. Tyrone on July 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    This is a very insightful article.

  17. Robert Martin on July 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Regarding language/dialect, in my opinion, one’s style of speech is a greater influence on social acceptance and equality than the color of our skin. I live in Appalachia, and I can assure you that, among white people, style of speech conveys nuanced impressions about education, intelligence, social class and status that have great influence on how we are regarded by others. It is very helpful to be able to speak well, even if we speak in colloquial vernacular among our closest friends. This is not how it ought to be, but I think this is how it is.
    Excellent article.

  18. Robert Martin on July 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Regarding language/dialect, in my opinion, one’s style of speech is a greater influence on social acceptance and equality than the color of our skin. I live in Appalachia, and I can assure you that, among white people, style of speech conveys nuanced impressions about education, intelligence, social class and status that have great influence on how we are regarded by others. It is very helpful to be able to speak well, even if we speak in colloquial vernacular among our closest friends. This is not how it ought to be, but I think this is how it is.
    Excellent article.

  19. Robert Martin on July 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Regarding language/dialect, in my opinion, one’s style of speech is a greater influence on social acceptance and equality than the color of our skin. I live in Appalachia, and I can assure you that, among white people, style of speech conveys nuanced impressions about education, intelligence, social class and status that have great influence on how we are regarded by others. It is very helpful to be able to speak well, even if we speak in colloquial vernacular among our closest friends. This is not how it ought to be, but I think this is how it is.
    Excellent article.

  20. Robert Martin on July 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Regarding language/dialect, in my opinion, one’s style of speech is a greater influence on social acceptance and equality than the color of our skin. I live in Appalachia, and I can assure you that, among white people, style of speech conveys nuanced impressions about education, intelligence, social class and status that have great influence on how we are regarded by others. It is very helpful to be able to speak well, even if we speak in colloquial vernacular among our closest friends. This is not how it ought to be, but I think this is how it is.
    Excellent article.

  21. Xenophanes on July 23, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Very fine. It was obvious to me from her testimony that Rachel Jeantel was intelligent and articulate. On thing is that defense knew very well that she understood and spoke English since they had been talking to her and questioning her since last October. What is significant is that Don West wss unable to shake her story. Anyway, if her interview with Piers Morgan is not enough, we also have an interview with Al Sharpton, which again shows she is intelligent and articulate.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/45755884/vp/52503539#52503539

    We should also note that Rachel has a physical speech defect, an underbite, which needs extensive surgical correction as I understand it. That’s why she has to speak slowly and carefully most of the time, which no doubt contributes to the fact she speaks in complete sentences. The defense knew that, too.

  22. Xenophanes on July 23, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Very fine. It was obvious to me from her testimony that Rachel Jeantel was intelligent and articulate. On thing is that defense knew very well that she understood and spoke English since they had been talking to her and questioning her since last October. What is significant is that Don West wss unable to shake her story. Anyway, if her interview with Piers Morgan is not enough, we also have an interview with Al Sharpton, which again shows she is intelligent and articulate.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/45755884/vp/52503539#52503539

    We should also note that Rachel has a physical speech defect, an underbite, which needs extensive surgical correction as I understand it. That’s why she has to speak slowly and carefully most of the time, which no doubt contributes to the fact she speaks in complete sentences. The defense knew that, too.

  23. Xenophanes on July 23, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Very fine. It was obvious to me from her testimony that Rachel Jeantel was intelligent and articulate. On thing is that defense knew very well that she understood and spoke English since they had been talking to her and questioning her since last October. What is significant is that Don West wss unable to shake her story. Anyway, if her interview with Piers Morgan is not enough, we also have an interview with Al Sharpton, which again shows she is intelligent and articulate.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/45755884/vp/52503539#52503539

    We should also note that Rachel has a physical speech defect, an underbite, which needs extensive surgical correction as I understand it. That’s why she has to speak slowly and carefully most of the time, which no doubt contributes to the fact she speaks in complete sentences. The defense knew that, too.

  24. Xenophanes on July 23, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Very fine. It was obvious to me from her testimony that Rachel Jeantel was intelligent and articulate. On thing is that defense knew very well that she understood and spoke English since they had been talking to her and questioning her since last October. What is significant is that Don West wss unable to shake her story. Anyway, if her interview with Piers Morgan is not enough, we also have an interview with Al Sharpton, which again shows she is intelligent and articulate.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/45755884/vp/52503539#52503539

    We should also note that Rachel has a physical speech defect, an underbite, which needs extensive surgical correction as I understand it. That’s why she has to speak slowly and carefully most of the time, which no doubt contributes to the fact she speaks in complete sentences. The defense knew that, too.

  25. Socorro on July 24, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Damn! You are so right, young sister. How the so-called superior can never acknowledge the absurdity of their superiority. I want to read more of your analysis, on this or any other topic.

  26. Socorro on July 24, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Damn! You are so right, young sister. How the so-called superior can never acknowledge the absurdity of their superiority. I want to read more of your analysis, on this or any other topic.

  27. Socorro on July 24, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Damn! You are so right, young sister. How the so-called superior can never acknowledge the absurdity of their superiority. I want to read more of your analysis, on this or any other topic.

  28. Socorro on July 24, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Damn! You are so right, young sister. How the so-called superior can never acknowledge the absurdity of their superiority. I want to read more of your analysis, on this or any other topic.

  29. Tiffany on July 24, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Thank you, Lauren, for this pointed assessment.

    I, too, recognized that the defense’s discrediting of Ms. Jeantel was intended to discredit Trayvon Martin, as well.

    With regard to BDL’s attempt to ‘explain’ Rachel Jeantel to the jury with words that traded on the same stereotypical understandings he ‘sought to correct,’ consider his statement that she “comes from a Haitian family.” He offered no further explanation, clarification, nor contextualization. That is, he “Othered” her even further.

    Thanks, again, for such an insightful analysis.

  30. Tiffany on July 24, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Thank you, Lauren, for this pointed assessment.

    I, too, recognized that the defense’s discrediting of Ms. Jeantel was intended to discredit Trayvon Martin, as well.

    With regard to BDL’s attempt to ‘explain’ Rachel Jeantel to the jury with words that traded on the same stereotypical understandings he ‘sought to correct,’ consider his statement that she “comes from a Haitian family.” He offered no further explanation, clarification, nor contextualization. That is, he “Othered” her even further.

    Thanks, again, for such an insightful analysis.

  31. Tiffany on July 24, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Thank you, Lauren, for this pointed assessment.

    I, too, recognized that the defense’s discrediting of Ms. Jeantel was intended to discredit Trayvon Martin, as well.

    With regard to BDL’s attempt to ‘explain’ Rachel Jeantel to the jury with words that traded on the same stereotypical understandings he ‘sought to correct,’ consider his statement that she “comes from a Haitian family.” He offered no further explanation, clarification, nor contextualization. That is, he “Othered” her even further.

    Thanks, again, for such an insightful analysis.

  32. Tiffany on July 24, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Thank you, Lauren, for this pointed assessment.

    I, too, recognized that the defense’s discrediting of Ms. Jeantel was intended to discredit Trayvon Martin, as well.

    With regard to BDL’s attempt to ‘explain’ Rachel Jeantel to the jury with words that traded on the same stereotypical understandings he ‘sought to correct,’ consider his statement that she “comes from a Haitian family.” He offered no further explanation, clarification, nor contextualization. That is, he “Othered” her even further.

    Thanks, again, for such an insightful analysis.

  33. LaSandra on July 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Great article! Just posted to fb. Please keep writing. What a gift!

  34. LaSandra on July 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Great article! Just posted to fb. Please keep writing. What a gift!

  35. LaSandra on July 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Great article! Just posted to fb. Please keep writing. What a gift!

  36. LaSandra on July 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Great article! Just posted to fb. Please keep writing. What a gift!

  37. [...] got to her testimony, it was widely written off as incredible. Lauren G. Parker’s provocative article on The Feminist Wire discusses the backlash in creative and critical [...]

  38. [...] got to her testimony, it was widely written off as incredible. Lauren G. Parker’s provocative article on The Feminist Wire discusses the backlash in creative and critical [...]

  39. [...] got to her testimony, it was widely written off as incredible. Lauren G. Parker’s provocative article on The Feminist Wire discusses the backlash in creative and critical [...]

  40. [...] got to her testimony, it was widely written off as incredible. Lauren G. Parker’s provocative article on The Feminist Wire discusses the backlash in creative and critical [...]

  41. [...] got to her testimony, it was widely written off as incredible. Lauren G. Parker’s provocative article on The Feminist Wire discusses the backlash in creative and critical [...]

  42. [...] got to her testimony, it was widely written off as incredible. Lauren G. Parker’s provocative article on The Feminist Wire discusses the backlash in creative and critical [...]

  43. [...] got to her testimony, it was widely written off as incredible. Lauren G. Parker’s provocative article on The Feminist Wire discusses the backlash in creative and critical [...]

  44. Aileen Gelpi on July 28, 2013 at 11:43 am

    You’re analysis is penetrating and true. Thank you for saying what so many of us thought but failed to express.

  45. On Behalf of Sethe | Amy's Voice on August 1, 2013 at 2:57 am

    [...] 6. This blog post follows the Toni Morrison theme of my piece (see the GREAT quote from “The Bluest Eye”) but it also highlights the very respectable, wonderful woman that is Rachel Jeantel – http://thefeministwire.com/2013/07/the-unsophisticated-mirror-of-rachel-jeantel/ [...]

  46. ZzZzZ on August 2, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    No one thinks it’s distressing that she is illiterate, and that so many other Americans — black, white, brown — are as well? This is a first world country, and we are sliding into illiteracy because we define peoples’ value and worth in economic terms — terms that mean whole sections of our society are essentially ‘valueless’. I’m ashamed of our failures to create an educated society.

  47. MiddleM on August 5, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    “Lauren G. Parker is an undergraduate…”? Wow, really? Very impressive writing and insights. We will be expecting major things from you! Keep up the amazing work!

  48. Natacha Leonard on August 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Sometimes, when a person is not that intelligent, it is because they are not that polite.

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