The Village


    Jul 19, 2013. Written by Deborah Collage Grison

    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.