What It Must Be Like To Be Rachel Jeantel
Growing up in New York, I saw it in my schools, at the centers, at the post office, at the bus stop and the subway information booth. I saw the eager dismissal of other human beings, the willingness to get frustrated, the sudden lapse of good faith.
‘You can’t help me! Get me somebody who speaks English!’
This crowded, petty hate that people get away with for fact that they direct it at the vulnerable. This acidic resent filtered into altercations over retail transactions and social services. This casual disregard of others and how that somehow became their failure and not your own.
I grew up around a sea of voices and they were all different. And their silencing, their ridicule, it is about power. It is about having just enough power to diminish someone else. To diminish strangers. To diminish my parents. To diminish my friends. Suddenly, Dee speaks too rough for you. Suddenly, my dad just needs to blurt it out. Suddenly, my best friends are incomprehensible to you.
And it’s their fault. It’s their fault because they have to navigate a world where you have just enough to diminish others. It’s their fault because it wasn’t enough that this is their second or third language, they should speak it with the fluency with which you disparage them. It’s their fault because you never bother to listen to people like them. It’s their fault because you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to navigate their world. It’s their fault because they’re so dismissible, so easy to disregard. It’s their fault because they stepped out of one neighborhood into another, because they’ve had to climb between places and communities and you live comfortably in one. It’s their fault for not appealing to your insularity.
It’s Trayvon’s fault because he left one community and forgot to pass in another. Because he thought he could just be a teenager and he didn’t see the sign that says ‘upon entry into this gated community, all black boys become a 1950’s caricature.’ It’s his fault because he couldn’t convey to George Zimmerman that he was just a boy, just a kid, walking home to his father. It’s not George Zimmerman’s fault for living a small life, one where he knows so little of people that a teenage boy wearing a hooded sweatshirt becomes a threat to his life that must be extinguished.
Consider this. Rachel had a friend. And he cared about her. And she was the last person he called before he died. They spoke on the night he perished from this earth because he got her and she got him. If you can’t consider her, if you can’t see her value or even imagine that she has value, if she makes you feel some sort of shame or resent, the problem isn’t with her, at all. If you a problem understanding Rachel Jeantel, made to testify at a trial over the murder of her friend, a murder that she had to hear, to listen to, as she rebuts a defense attorney representing the man who killed that friend, the problem isn’t with her at all.
If you think there’s something wrong with how she speaks or looks, there’s something wrong with you.
Excellent essay, hideous web design with horrible distracting background but worth the trouble to read.