Rachel Jeantel Spoke Up for Trayvon -- and Us

The attempts by George Zimmerman's attorney to portray Trayvon Martin's friend -- dark-skinned and plus-sized -- as "combative" is a classic way to discredit the validity of black women's traumas, Brittney Cooper writes at Salon.

Posted:
 
racheljeantel575jd062813
Witness Rachel Jeantel testifies during George Zimmerman's trial. (Pool/Getty Images)

While some critics mocked the performance of Trayvon Martin's 19-year-old friend Rachel Jeantel, who appeared as a witness during George Zimmerman's trial this week, Brittney Cooper argues at Salon that the criticism is a perfect example of the cultural stumbling blocks navigated daily by some blacks.

[George Zimmerman's] trial might be intriguing, fascinating cultural theater to some. To me, it is more akin to a cultural trauma: a continual reminder of how unsafe all those young black men that I love actually are as they move through the world -- and how tenuous and torturous it would be to seek justice on their behalf. Troubled, though, by the negative characterizations of Trayvon Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel, after her first day of testimony, I tuned in yesterday in a show of sofa-based, sister-girl solidarity.

Immediately, I heard newscasters referring to her prior testimony, which I had watched on video, as combative and aggressive. And I felt my pressure start to rise.

These kinds of terms -- combat, aggression, anger -- stalk black women, especially black women who are dark-skinned and plus-sized like Rachel, at every turn seeking to discredit the validity of our experiences and render invisible our traumas. By painting Rachel Jeantel as the aggressor, as the one prone to telling lies and spreading untruths, it became easy for the white male defense attorney to treat this 19-year-old, working-class black girl, a witness to the murder of her friend, as hostile, as a threat, as the one who needed to be regulated and contained and put in her place.

I know these are just classic legal maneuvers of a good defense. Yet these maneuvers also provide an eerily perfect diagram of the cultural grammar that determines how black folks move through the world, always already cast as the aggressors, always necessarily on the defensive, all too often victimized, all too rarely vindicated.

Read Brittany Cooper's entire piece at Salon.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.   

Comments
The Root encourages respectful debate and dialogue in our commenting community. To improve the commenting experience for all our readers we will be experimenting with some new formats over the next few weeks. During this transition period the comments section will be unavailable to users.

We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your continued support of The Root.

While we are experimenting, please feel free to leave feedback below about your past experiences commenting at The Root.