Rachel Jeantel

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Credit: Reuters/Jacob Langston/Pool

The last person to speak to Trayvon Martin alive may be the most talked about ‘colored girl’ of the week. The moment Rachel Jeantel took the stand in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, media and spectators weighed in on her intelligence and appearance.

Cultural critics Mychal Denzel Smith, Brittney Cooper and Jelani Cobb unpack the class, gender, racial, and aesthetic politics that underline many of the responses to Jeantel’s presence:

“Rachel’s testimony is an emotional reminder of just what happened. A teenage boy was killed. His family and friends were left to mourn. For some of them, the pain is still fresh. The man responsible walked free for more than a month. There’s a possibility he could be found not guilty.” Continue reading @ The Nation

“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.” Continue reading @ Salon.com

“Social-media commentary on Jeantel began nearly as soon as she began to testify. Crass assessments of her weight, looks, and intelligence from some white observers competed with a cocktail of vicarious shame, embarrassment, and disdain from some black ones. If the trial has become a referendum on racial attitudes, Jeantel’s testimony served as a reminder that none of us have the moral high ground. Of the abundant ironies that this case has generated, perhaps the most telling are the commonalities that emerged while she was in the courtroom: it brings out the worst in all of us.” Continue reading @ The New Yorker

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About jennifer williams

Jennifer D. Williams is a writer and professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies. She has published in academic journals and online at Ms.blog, PopMatters, among other sites. Jennifer is currently working on a book that looks at black women's urban literature between the Depression and the civil rights era.

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