What I’m Hearing: Rachel Jeantel and Black Women Stereotypes

3 Jul

We have to love social media…or, do we?

I couldn’t help but notice the many postings on Facebook–both video clips and status updates referring to Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin’s friend, who was the last person to speak to Trayvon, and the key witness in the George Zimmerman trial last week.

Now, that I am so with it, and on Twitter, the first tweet I saw about Rachel Jeantel’s testimony, which was tweeted (see how I have the lingo down?) by a black man, said that Rachel Jeantel was an embarrassment, probably the worst witness ever.

Then, more tweets and status updates and blog posts on fb followed:  “She makes the black community look bad.”   “She’s ghetto.”  “She slurs her words, rolls her eyes…”  Olympic athlete, Lolo Jones, tweeted that she was going to make a Madea dvd out of Jeantel’s testimony and sell it.  Many laughed along with her, but thankfully, many also chided Lolo on Twitter and in blog posts, for her insensitivity toward Ms. Jeantel.

To get a better perspective on the talk about the negative stereotyping of black women surfacing because of Rachel’s testimony, I settled into Melissa Harris Perry’s MSNBC show where she and featured speakers dissected what was happening with social media and stereotyping during the Zimmerman trial.

The biggest point driven home to me was Melissa and her guests’ statements that our comments and writings on social media expose how judgmental we are when it comes to race and class.  Our comments say more about us as a people, black and white, than it does about Rachel Jeantel.

We’ve picked on her diction and grammar.  We’ve picked on her appearance.  We look at her, her dark skin, her curvy shape, her hoop earrings, and her mannerisms, and expect her to behave a certain way. We expect her to not be smart.  Guests on the MSNBC show went on to say that the middle-class black community wants to turn its back on the “Rachels”, and not be associated with members of the poor, black community who they feel “reflect badly” on black people who lead more self-described respectful, successful lives.

Worse than that, Harris Perry says that because of all these things, we expect Rachel to not be surprised that her black friend ends up dead–that these are the things that happen to people that inhabits these kinds of bodies, these kinds of lives.

I posted some time ago here about the black girl stereotypes that played out in my head, and my peers’ heads, during my high school years in One Of A Kind Black Girls.  We all have them.  Stereotypes.  We have stereotypes based on race ingrained in our brains from the way we’ve been raised, what we’ve read, seen on television, in movies, on the news.  We’ve seen things the way they’ve been constructed for us to see them.  We are subtly, and not so subtly “taught” that someone who lives in poverty, dresses a certain way, speaks a certain way, looks a certain way, has a dark skin color, is somehow less than us.  Now, we add social media to the mix, and we have become master judges of character and intellect.  It’s not pretty.

All of the guests on the Melissa Harris Perry show asked us to think about Rachel Jeantel as a teenage girl who lost her best friend to murder, who had to sit across from the man accused of killing her friend, and Trayvon’s parents, and know she was the last person to speak to him alive. I know I will strive to always take this point-of-view before I judge, and jump on the “let’s make fun of so-and-so” band wagon for millions to see.

What have you been hearing?  What are your thoughts?


www.msnbc.com, The Melissa Harris Perry Show, Rachel Jeantel and Society’s Views on Black Women, article by Ali Vitali, July 1, 2013

photo source:  www.cloudfront.net

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