And Justice For All? Trayvon Martin, Rachel Jeantel, and America's Enduring Racial Pathology

While watching the second day of the trial of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who pulled the trigger and shot Trayvon Martin to death, I got real clear on America's justice system: If someone like Zimmerman decides that, like Trayvon, my black sons look suspicious and follows them--all despite the police saying not to--and shoots them while they're talking on their cell phone to a friend, that friend will be put on the stand during the trial and grilled about whether English is his or her first language, and whether he or she knows how to read and write in cursive.

The depth of condescension while Zimmerman's disgraceful attorney questioned Trayvon's friend, Rachel Jeantel, the thinly veiled racial doublespeak, and the attempt to turn Trayvon's use of the n-word and calling Zimmerman a cracker into a, "You see America, they're racist against us and they call each other racist names, so clearly, Trayvon Martin was an animal who attacked poor innocent George," moment made my blood boil.

And as Jeantel was being given the "you sho is big, black, and dumb" routine by Zimmerman's attorney, I saw folks in my social media six degrees of separation losing hope. Sure, we raked Paula Deen over the coals for her "I is what I is and I ain't changin'" racism--and she got fired from a whole bunch of places--but if we're honest, earlier this week after the Supreme Court of the United States dismantled that cornerstone of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many of us were left feeling more than a little bit powerless. After all, we live in a world where Walmart can fire Paula Deen, but as powerful as they are, even they cannot fire Clarence Thomas.

Indeed, as we absorbed yet another reminder that when black folks pledge allegiance to the flag "with liberty and justice for all," that "all" is still conditional, folks began preparing themselve mentally and emotionally for Zimmerman to be acquitted of murder because there's no way a white female jury can avoid being sucked into the constant othering and pathologizing of black Americans--of a black male like Trayvon Martin, and a black female witness like Rachel Jeantel.

In "A Letter to Rachel Jeantel" the brilliant Kadijah Costley White summed up so well how the racial pathologizing of Jeantel includes, "comparisons to 'Precious' (as if Gabourey Sidibe isn't a real person or, irony of ironies, that Precious wasn't also a victim of trauma)," and "people making fun of your frankness, your tenacity, your refusal to codeswitch out of your mother-sister-brother tongue."

Watching Jeantel testify I thought of the many times I've been spoken to with racist condescension by a white person. Every black person has had those moments where we've said to ourselves, if I was white, you wouldn't talk to me like this. I've never been in a witness box, but I've felt the condescension when, for example, white women have tried to pet my hair. But being insulted is the least of black folks' worries. Dire consequences can result when the person bringing their inherent sense of superiority to your attention is a police officer, or a judge, or your boss. You point out the racism and you're the problem that needs to be dealt with.

Despite that reality, what gave me hope is when Costley White wrote to Jeantel,
You exemplify, in your girth, skin tone, language, and manner, a refusal to concede. You are a thousand Nat Turners, a quiet spring of rebellion, and some folks don't know how to handle that.

In truth, you're part of a long legacy of black women so often portrayed as the archetypal Bitch, piles of Sassafrasses, Mammies, and Jezebels easily dismissed, caricatured, and underestimated. For black women, in particular, being the bitch represents our historical exclusion from the cult of true womanhood, a theme traditionally bounded and defined by its contrast to white femininity. For some folks, being black and being a woman makes us less of both.
Although America may dismiss Rachel Jeantel, all of us so-called angry black bitches are a collective spirit sitting in the witness box with her. America may not see Jeantel's--or our--inherent nobility, bravery, beauty, intelligence, and truth, but it's there, whether you like it or not. And we will not be silent.

Costley White went on to write of Jeantel, "In you I see a fierce resistance that reminds me of ancestors past. Each time you open your mouth, look down, clench your cheeks in a fresh wave of pain, I see Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Fannie Lou Hamer joining their spirits and bonding their strength to yours."

Ancestors past.

While Rachel Jeantel was on the stand today, President Obama made a pilgrimage to the Goree Island Slave Trade House in Senegal and looked out the Door of No Return. Obama said the visit is a reminder
"that we have to remain vigilant when it comes to the defense of people's human rights–because I'm a firm believer that humanity is fundamentally good, but it's only good when good people stand up for what's right. And this is a testament to when we're not vigilant in defense of what's right, what can happen."
Perhaps the ancestors of a murdered teenager named Trayvon Martin were forced through that same door and into chattel slavery here in the New World. Even though his--and my--ancestors could not in one instant overthrow the institution of slavery, they resisted and chipped away at it with every breath. There was no justice for them, but they did not stop trying to achieve it.

Our confidence that Trayvon will get justice hangs by a thread--depending on whether those members of the jury want to be, as Obama said, good people standing up for what's right. Yet we cannot be silent or hesitant in agitating for that justice, for demanding that people actually do what's right. We cannot wait, my sons cannot wait, this country cannot wait.

Comments

Anonymous said…
LOL

your trying to make this about slavery now?

"Jeantel's--or our--inherent nobility, bravery, beauty, intelligence, and truth, but it's there, whether you like it or not. And we will not be silent. "


ahahahha

you are a disgrace
Anonymous said…
Oh my. At some point, basic command of the English language in a setting outside of one's comfort zone is a prerequisite for success. Jeantel's disaster on the stand is a poor reflection on America's education system, but also a stinging indictment for those that would defend illiteracy and construe it as racism.
Jeff Epton said…
One difference between Jeantel and you, Anonymous, is that she is who she is in public and, for now, at least, you prefer to hide in the bushes.
Lucrecer said…
Cowardly people post as Anonymous. That is disgraceful. Amazing that minorities are required to speak English first because that is what many white people are most comfortable with. As quickly as Spanish is growing in this country, we still have the current majority in denial that they are going to have to change and adapt.

Rachel was consistent with her testimony and our justice system is shameful for trying to make this about which language she speaks first instead of her being consistent in her testimony.

The fact still remains that Zimmerman is a murderer and be it on this Earth or in Heaven, he will be accountable for his actions. Let's not get it twisted. He is no trial, not the witnesses.
Anonymous said…
Her original languages are Spanish and Creole. Are you also Tri-lingual? No? Maybe it was your education...
Anonymous said…
maybe in your teeny, tiny, unenlightened corner of the universe, "basic command of the english language in a setting outside of one's comfort zone is a prerequisite for success"; however, i can think of numerous extremely successful people who don't speak english, speak a little english, code-switch, speak english as a foreign language, and/or find the english language archaic and repulsive. the wealthiest man on the planet speaks english as a foreign language, and if you've ever heard george w. bush speak then you know success is not dependent upon one's command of english diction or grammar. if your only takeaway from this post is the greatly underinformed conclusion that dwyer is "trying to make this about slavery," then it's clear that your command of the english reading comprehension is questionable.
Los Angelista said…
Anonymous, no one is making this about slavery. Perhaps deep down you believe it's about slavery and so you're projecting? Also I appreciate you specifically quoting that line because it is the straight up truth. Far from being a disgrace--and really, name calling like that is disappointing--I'm honored to live in a nation where I have the freedom to take action against injustice.
Los Angelista said…
"the wealthiest man on the planet speaks english as a foreign language, and if you've ever heard george w. bush speak then you know success is not dependent upon one's command of english diction or grammar."

Amen to that.
Unknown said…
This music video tells why Trayvon Martin is dead~
http://youtu.be/OqZqGql9ml4
Anonymous said…
I read your article on hair. Why the hell are you do angry? I have been to Africa and the blacks wanted to touch my blonde hair, I let them do it, what is the big deal? Men wanted to touch my long blond hair, and I let them, what is the matter with you? Why are you black women so angry all the time? If someone asks to touch my hair, I smile and say, "sure". you wanted to kill the woman? Wow, you are one angry black woman!
Anonymous said…
"feel entitled to touch black women's hair"


http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2009/09/feel-entitled-to-touch-black-womens.html
Anonymous said…
While we are on the subject of slavery... am I the only person that finds the utmost irony in the fact that in this country's history, our very FIRST legally recognized slave, John Casor, was owned by Anthony Johnson... a BLACK man? One 'might' surmise that if a black person can be driven to slavery by another black person (slavery WAS an export of Africa and not 'invented' in Colonial America) that it may very well be happening again, thank you Barack!? Alas, a question to the author of this article... if Trayvon was shot while merely talking to a friend on his cell phone... then how exactly did Zimmerman suffer the lacerations that he did and what say you to the testimony that Martin was on top of Zimmerman and was actually shot while 'over' Zimmerman on the ground? I realize that working up people you believe to have inferior intellectual capacity to you into a racially charged frenzy seems to be the trend of 2013 but can it be that those same incapable people fall prey to such unabashed deceit?

-Robert Files
Anonymous said…
Of course another ignorant white person who didn't get the message that was relayed...you people never do...knit picking at everything...the language...one woman commenting about hair...but never understanding the real message that people like Liz Dwyer are trying to relay about people of color experiences endured here in America....you all never, ever get it and probably never will.
Anonymous said…
LMFAO!
Anonymous said…
Rachel wasn't consistent with her testimony. She actually admitted to lying twice. The defense didn't treat her any differently because she is black than they would treat any unintelligible white person. They are a defense team its their job and they did it well. It's also interesting how people keep trying to make this about Zimmerman profiling. Ask any sociology or physiology professor, every person profiles everyone they see and meet; it's human nature. Also, instructions from the police dispatcher and not "lawful" orders as when a police officer gives an order. Zimmerman's actions may not have been "right" and had he made different choices Martin may still be alive, however his actions leading to the altercation were not illegal. Zimmerman has obvious injuries that occurred from a fight and during that fight he defended himself. Just as Zimmerman could have made different choices so to could Martin. If a "white ass cracker" was following him and he felt threatened why did use his cell phone to call the police and report it. I don't agree with Zimmerman's actions prior to the altercation (though not illegal) but if someone is on top of me hitting me in the face and hitting my head against the ground I would use whatever I had available to stop them. Don't judge a book by its cover, unfortunately all humans do. If you choose to wear certain style of clothes and talk a certain way you will (wrongfully) be judge for that and not who you are, white or black.
Unknown said…
This entire case is a media fiasco and an example of racism, but not white-on-black. There is far too much black-on-everyone-else (since Zimmerman is Hispanic... I never even heard of "white-hispanic" before this case) racism attached to this case and the MSM is complicit in fanning the flames. If both individuals were of the same race, what would everyone be talking about?

Fact: NBC news mis-reported the story initially to give a racist twist to Zimmerman's 911 call. They later apologized for the "mistake".

Fact: First impressions can leave lasting impressions. Psychologically, those who heard the edited 911 call may tend to keep their pre-concieved notions of racism even after the news agency apologizes for slanting the story.

An individual walking through a GATED COMMUNITY where he does not live and is spotted by a community volunteer who does live there. Is it not the job of neighborhood watch to watch for unusual behavior and people who do not belong?

Some of the physical evidence does in fact support Zimmerman's claim of self defense: Ballistic evidence from the aftermath indicates that the youth was on top of Zimmerman man when shot. The injuries to the back of Zimmerman's head are consistent with having his head struck against the pavement.

Is it the act of a peaceful youth in someone else's neighborhood to jump on top of a man in his own neighborhood and start smashing his head on the pavement? Is it not the right of everyone to defend themselves when they are being physically assaulted (if that is what happened)?

I think that the black community needs to conceded that this isn't an open-and-shut case and that the possibility exists that "Saint Skittles" as conservatives refer to Treyvon may not have been just an innocent boy talking to his friend on the phone, and Zimmerman may not have been a white (did I mention he was Hispanic?) racist hell-bent on murdering a black kid because he had an opportunity to do so.

Let the trial run it's course and try to trust that justice will be served. After all, race does not decide guilt or innocence.
Anonymous said…
Oh and Zimmerman passed three different voice analyzing lie detector test. Kinda shows he was telling the truth. Maybe this is why he wasn't initially charged. And maybe because of racism is why he is now on trial. Funny how multiple PROSECUTION witness corroborate Zimmerman's story. Martin had a pattern of behavior (being in multiple fights). He chose to continue that pattern and engaged in an altercation with Zimmerman which sadly ended his life. Would there be this much uproar if Zimmerman had died from having his head beat against the ground?
Anonymous said…
I am from Africa and people will touch your hair out of curiosity but with no intention to judging you. I have now lived in America and I do not care someone touching or asking me about my hair because that is the person's problem if it is for negative talk. My big problem is the deep rooted prejudiced based on people's assumptions about people who are different. I prefer to even be called a name than to be treated in manner that represents that name, i.e. in a condescending way, and that is the problem in this situation. If you speak three or more languages, then you can discredit that lady's spoken language skills.
Anonymous said…
......of judging you (typo)
Anonymous said…
This woman is unhealthy and uneducated, a shining example of what is wrong with our system. Young generations have been hypnotized and dumbed down by media, reality shows, and chemically altered food.
If you watched her testimony you would see that she can't even deliver a coherent sentence. No, I'm not talking about the dialect of ebonics, which is at least understandable. I'm talking about not even being able to communicate something that makes any sense.
She unfortunately appears to have the mind of a child.
Anonymous said…
Please, stop playing the race card.

Slavery has been dead for one hundred and forty-eight years. In that span of time, millions of Western and Eastern European immigrants have come to this country and dealt with as much (Italian), if not more (Irish) hate and bigotry as Black Americans have. However, these groups have been able to assimilate and excel. Why? Perhaps all it takes is a little hard work and the desire to better oneself. Perhaps, rather than pointing their fingers at "The Man" and crying foul and "poor us", they gritted their teeth and pushed on. Perhaps they learned that in America, you can get ahead IF YOU WORK FOR IT!

Maybe Black Americans should educate themselves on the history of our nation. Perhaps then they will learn that they're not the only ones who had to suffer and deal with hardships.
Anonymous said…
Complete mastery of 1 language is better than mumbling through three. Tri-lingual, please.

And justice for "all", all" is conditional on acting like a human being, which I'm sad to say, Escapes a large number of Afr-Americans.
sleepyccs said…
The derailing anonymous trolls are out in full force.
Anonymous said…
Its all political
TGJ said…
@Anonymous....I don't know you, but your comments are way off balance. As far as I am concerned, slavery is not dead. If slavery is so dead, then maybe 'race' wouldn't be a BIG factor in this Zimmerman case. If slavery is so dead like YOU may think it is, then maybe Zimmerman wouldn't have profiled and murdered a young black child, who cannot live out his potential 'now', because this psychopath wanted to follow him, just because 'HE' felt he looked suspicious. "This would have never happened to a 'white' child". I don't hear of 'white' males being killed innocently like I hear of 'black' males being innocently killed. If slavery was so dead, then why the hell congress want to change the voting rights law (I know why, because abundance of us blacks came out and voted for a 1st time black president....twice)!!!! And these old 'white' racist men can't stand a 'Black' man being in office. This is why they (old white men) wanted to make him a 'one time' president....but couldn't. If slavery is so dead, then 'we' blacks wouldn't need affirmative action to at least get a decent job due to discrimination. If slavery is so dead, there would be no discrimination. If slavery is so dead, then maybe the U.S. education system would teach all kids equally (meaning there would be no such thing as a white or urban/inner city schools). Because every child (regardless of their race) are human beings and should have the opportunity to go to any school they want to, in order to receive a good education regardless of their race. Anonymous get your 'head' out of your butt and see this world (U.S.) for really what it is.....RACIST. Everything is about RACE. How Unfortunate. So all your comments....PLEASE!!!! TGJ:o)
Anonymous said…
Not all "white" people are ignorant animals. Some of us don't care one way or another about race, just a persons actions. And just to be clear, I am "white" but half of my family are Chippewa Indian. That half still lives on reservations because that is the only way they can live their lives. So please remember this when generalizing "whites" as ignorant racists.

Mrs. Mason
Anonymous said…
if it's not about racism why is Zimmerman being made to be " white" when he is clearly Hispanic. And why are the only, or majority of, pictures of Trayvon Martin only of him when he was 12 and not what he looks like at the time this happened! Only to incite racism between black and white. Which this case has absolutely nothing to do with ANY white participants. And why hasn't there ever been any publicity or public outcry going on about a case in Atlanta that happened last year at a drive-in theater, a black guy shot and killed a white guy simply for walking up to his car to ask for help with his car that wouldn't start. Don't hear anything about that! Why not? Don't hear Al Sharpton and rest of the real racist making a stink about that at all!
Allison said…
Liz - thanks for the insightful, honest, and riveting piece. I didn't read all the comments because I should be in bed ready to be up with the 4-month old shortly. But I really am encouraged that your post has brought on so many comments!
Anonymous said…
The author made it about slavery when he compared her to Harriet Tubman et al. The witness sounded uneducated and could not read cursive. She blamed it on her ancestry, however, she did receive an education here in the states, so that is no excuse. "Her girth" is not a refusal to concede, as the author puts it, but due to overindulgence and the inability to put effort into being healthy, something that plagues many Americans.
As far as the case and Trayvon getting justice, he will not. This isn't due to some inherent racism harbored by the six white women, but due to Florida law. Zimmerman acted within Florida law as it is written, one that I personally do not agree with. March and petition to get the law overturned if you want justice for him, and that would be a greater justice than winning one case in spite of law, just because of popular opinion and the threat of racial upheaval. On a side note, I feel that if racism is to truly end in America, one should not assume six white women are going to automatically side against a black victim and a black witness, purely on race alone. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!
Anonymous said…
Wow, your post is so full of racism it is sickening. Do you not think racism works both ways? Do you know that more white people voted for Obama than black people? Black people make up about 13% of this country and could not elect anyone on their own. I've heard and actually know personally of innocent white children being attacked because of their color. There was an article on Yahoo a month or two ago about a family that stopped for gas outside of New Orleans. They pulled off of the interstate in what happened to be a predominately black neighborhood. Men walked up to the father and told him he was in the wrong neighborhood to be white and proceeded to beat and stomp him unconscious. The wife got out and got more of the same, while their kid watched in horror. The perpetrators cannot be charged with a hate crime, however, because that is reserved for violence against minorities and gays. And Zimmerman did not profile the kid, he just saw a person (at 5'11" with a hoodie, I wouldn't have assumed it was a kid anyways) that did not live in his neighborhood, the same neighborhood that had 8+ break-ins in the previous year.
Anonymous said…
America is still a very racist country. How sad.

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