A white jury is not going to like Rachel Jeantel. Let’s just be real here.
Yes, she lied. Yes, she is illiterate. Yes, she is barely intelligible when she speaks. Yes, she is fat, unattractive, combative and obviously of very low intelligence. But that doesn’t mean that amid the lies, confusion and mush-mouthed testimony she is not telling us a greater truth. An essential truth about race and class in America. She is, and it’s something that we all have to look deep down inside ourselves and listen to.
The truth is that people like Rachel Jeantel simply cannot be held to the same standards as white people. So what if she perjured herself? You can’t expect the rules to apply to someone that obviously cannot understand them. So what if she is impossible to understand? Who are we to say what is considered intelligible and articulate speech? So what if she changed her story and flat out lied? She is oppressed, so it would be racist to expect her to be capable of putting together a coherent chain of events.
Is not language itself the most oppressive social construct? Are words themselves not simply tyrannies with which we imprison one another?
To expect anything at all out of someone like Rachel is just another example of white people blinded by their privilege. Applying white standards of behavior to Rachel is like applying normal standards of evidence and procedure in a racially charged legal case — an arbitrary process that only serves to entrench white privilege and cultural hegemony. The very fact that we make assumptions about such things at all is because of our refusal to look beyond our whiteness.
The details and facts of the case don’t really matter anyway. What matters is the greater, more fundamentally true narrative that is being revealed. This truth goes beyond Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and Rachel Jeantel. It touches each and every one of us in America. That is the truth that people like Rachel are oppressed, have no agency of their own, have no ability to change their circumstances, cannot be held responsible for their own behavior and need to be protected from bad white people like George Zimmerman by good white people like us.
This is real. Let’s not forget it.