How Black America Failed Her and Ourselves

As a lover of language, a scholar, and a college professor of English Composition and the Humanities for the past 12 years, I GOT IT! I GET IT! I understood EVERY word that Miss Rachel Jeantel spoke while she was on the witness stand two weeks ago and during her post trial interviews. I was not confused, angry, nor embarrassed by her presentation. I was however, surprised that she had not been prepped better or at all for her testimony; nor advised as to how critical it would be to the case. With that stated, she did a great job! YES! You read that right! Under ALL of the circumstance she faced, she used what she had, told the truth that she lived, lives and knows; sharing her authentic self on behalf of her lost loved one and for the whole world to watch, see and judge.

With the exception of the Martin family members, she was actually more honest and genuine than any other witness that took the stand throughout the entire trial on both sides. Rachel Jeantel kept it “one hunnerd”! From the words she spoke, the facial expressions she gave, the rolling of her eyes and even the sucking of her teeth. All of that was and is her truth. Especially, the way she stated things. That is what I found inspiring and what gave me hope; her language, her linguistics, her verbal speech and even her non-verbal communication. I sat and watched he entire testimony, both days. To which I found myself agreeing with her, cheering for her and how she handled things. I felt her! I saw myself and every black person, especially black women on that witness stand.

See, while the rest and most of the world threw stones of condemnation and ridicule, Rachel was recapping as best as she could the last words she shared with and even heard from her friend Trayvon Martin. While the rest and most of the world casted her off as an “angry, rebellious, uneducated illiterate black teenager and woman, Rachel held back more colorful language that she could have used and would have been justified in using. However, despite the obvious mounting pressure, the judgment from the media, the court of public opinion and especially the black community; she showed much restraint, composure and respect to the defense, the prosecution, the court, the Martin Family and even to herself. All of this, while the cameras captured her every move, her every word, her every action and reaction. She was purely GRACE UNDER FIRE!  Yet, we did not see her that way. Nor, did we see her as a human being who was yet grieving.

Unfortunately, we only know her (I use that term loosely) through one lens and that is what the mass media has shown to us. We believe everything we read, hear, overhear and see. Based on this poor, inaccurate and incomplete misrepresentation of her to us, we (black people) did exactly what the world expected us to do and what as a group we typically do. We began to “hate” on her, scorn her, shun her, make fun of her and even disown her.  All because of her weight, her size, her color and her language; a language that we as black people ourselves know, and even use; on “the regular”!

It was clear that this entire judicial proceeding was poorly driven by racial, economic even gender biases. The way the defense and the prosecution mistreated and mishandled her was deplorable; their biased behavior being worthy of public denunciation and even investigation.  However, what about that of the black community? We are just as guilty of such maltreatment and behavior, if not more than those outside of our community. And of course after such a disbanded, hateful display, many are now swooping down like superheroes to save the day and offer support to Rachel Jeantel. From book deals, social media walls of support, tweets, scholarship gifts and now suddenly all praises are reigning down in support of her. Gimme a break! And cut it out black America. As a community we dogged her and she is now rising like a phoenix from the very ashes (of a fire) we help set and from flames we help fan, “WE” black people are now her biggest fans, cheerleaders and supporters. Really! Really! Once again we are following the crowd, instead of leading it. With the exception of a few people, like Tom Joyner who offered her a scholarship to any HBCU of her choice, whether in Florida or not. Kudos, “pounds,” and “props to Mr. Joyner. Real talk, that is really great! But, where are and where were the rest of us? Where were we when she first stepped foot on the scene onto the witness stand? More importantly, where were we when she exited the court room?

As a whole, we failed her. Yes, we did!  We FAILED her for the very things we get up in arms about when those outside of our community criticize and make fun of us for and about; again, her weight, her size, her skin color, her attitude, her education, and her language. YES! We gave her an “F” in all of these areas of her life. To which, we truly know nothing about…her life. We, black Americans have such an internal hatred for ourselves and fall prey to such negativity. SO YES! We failed Rachel Jeantel, but in so doing, we failed ourselves. So, while we wear the Trayvon Martin t-shirts (WHICH WE SHOULD); if we are honest we should put an “F” on our chests and wear the truth about how we let her down. Put her face and those words on a t-shirt, poster board and other items, Stand up and say, I AM RACHEL JEANTEL: BLACK AMERICA FAILED YOU!  NOW, WHO AMONG “US” WOULD DO THAT? After all, she is one of “US” too.

20 thoughts on “I AM RACHEL JEANTEL!

  1. Thank you Dr.Grison,

    Your words spoke volume, love, honesty, and care!Unfortuntely, many of our people follow the crowed and believe every word given to us. It is time for us to become more self-sufficient, loving each other and educating our own. We have the power to become all that God wants us to be if we take the time to care. I am doing all I know who to make a difference in my community. God bless you and may he always give you his favor.

  2. Miss Grison, i love you. After all the stupid remarks i hears about the performance of my sweet little sister Rachel Jeantel you make sense, thanks!

  3. Well said, but some of us were cheering her on from the minute
    she entered the stand until she exited. I do think form reading Facebook
    She had a lot of black supporters from the start as well who
    Also understood and was proud that as a teenager
    She had more courage than some adults who
    refuse to speak up when they know something .

  4. Just because Rachel spoke differently, her words were true. Juror #B37 judged Rachel before she even opened her mouth. Thanks, This is what everyone needed to hear and understand.

    1. Vanessa:

      As an educator I found myself thinking many things. Such as, I need to learn another language. Although I teach English, I can always sharpen mine and add to them. The Juror in question and many others were operating and deliberating with and at a deficit. Even if she had never heard “such language,” it seemed as though she still was yet objective and as objective as jurors are supposed to be. Thank you for your reply.

  5. Dr. Grison!

    Wow, that was a powerful blog and I thank you very much! I can appreciate your courage and being honest because I am Haitian and was Rachel! I have lived, walked and talked in her shoes so at the end of the day, you learn how to rise above it. It is because of those challenges growing up that I decided 18 years ago to start a program for and about teens called Teenagers In Charge!( Today, I choose to continue helping teens like her so that they can learn how to build their self-esteem, heighten their cultural and community awareness but more importantly, learn how to take charge of their lives as this is our mission. If you can’t be a part of the solution; you are a part of the problem! So, I salute you and your courage to make and take a stance on holding us accountable!

    Peace and Blessings to you…


      1. All I can say is wow and I’m so proud to see a young lady such as you possess the ability to make your written words speak with such volume !!!

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