Why Black people understand Rachel Jeantel


by Christina Coleman

If ever I thought myself objective and unbiased, the George Zimmerman trial is definitely not that moment.

So let’s cut to the chase. Any attorney, jury member, judge or white person in that courtroom is not going to understand Rachel Jeantel. And I don’t expect them to.

In fact, I certainly, like my fellow writer Rachel Samara, understand why white people wouldn’t like Rachel.

Rachel JeantelShe’s hard. She’s Black. And your assumptions about her background and lack of education make you feel like you are better, somehow. That her testimony, no matter how powerful and impactful it may be to this trial, is implausible. Weak, maybe? Let’s impeach her.

But maybe the reason white people don’t understand Rachel Jeantel has something more to do with white privilege then – what they would call Rachel’s capricious nature.

Let’s for one second try to understand why Rachel is “angry” (read emotional), “hood” (read blunt) and “unintelligent” (read multilingual).

The thing is, what white people see in Rachel has little to do about her own issues and more to say about the America that white people are blind to. Let’s take her testimony on not calling the police, for example.

Rachel told defense attorney Don West that she didn’t call the police after she heard the scuffle between Trayvon Martin and the man who was following him for numerous reasons. First, she believed that he was right near his “daddy’s house” and that Tracy would help him. She also was under the impression that, if it were a life or death situation, someone would certainly come to his aid. But as West continued his questioning, riddled with nuances to throw Rachel off track, the glaring subtext of this all became clear.

Don West doesn’t understand why Rachel didn’t call the police when she heard a struggle. Rachel, who is a Black woman, doesn’t call the police. Why? Black people and police officers don’t mix.

The tottering seesaw between Black people and law enforcement leaves us in a position where we are afraid to call the cops because we’re not exactly sure they are on our side. And in an age where police responding to calls for help will still result in an innocent Black person’s incarceration or death, it’s difficult to know who to trust or turn to during times of need.

Distrust in police stems from decades of being disenfranchised and treated unfairly by those who were supposed to protect us. And yes, I’m taking it there … distrust in white people. Government. LAPD. NYPD. Most recently, the White Plains police department in Westchester County, N.Y., who murdered an innocent Black man named Kenneth Chamberlain when his Life Aid medical necklace was inadvertently triggered and they were summoned to his home. And just last week, the police officer in Detroit, Michigan, who shot and killed 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was set free after a mistrial. Not to mention the killers of Amadou Diallo or the torturers of Abner Louiama.

The point is, Black people can understand Rachel’s hesitancy when it came to contacting the police because the fear and doubt that comes with dealing with law enforcement is as entwined into the tapestry of our culture as is our slavery past.

It’s not that Rachel can’t be trusted. In fact, her testimony has remained solid and consistent throughout her nearly seven hours of questioning.

But, the initial fear of not knowing what would happen is something that Black people can understand. And overlook. Which is something that someone with white privilege wouldn’t exactly grasp.

But what’s more are the cultural differences between white and Black people.

When asked why she omitted the words “creepy ass cracker” and “nigga” when speaking in front of Sybrina Fulton about her son’s last moments, she simply told the court that she didn’t want to disrespect her.

As West looked at her in utter disbelief, Rachel looked back, unwavering. How could he not understand that she couldn’t bring herself to upset someone who had just lost a child? Better yet, curse in front of adults.

Note: Disrespect to elders in the Black and especially Caribbean communities is almost as bad as cursing the Lord.

And speaking of that word “nigga,” the court might not understand Trayvon and Rachel’s casual use of the word because of how often, no matter how controversial, it is used in our communities.

So aside from the argument that we took the power out of a degrading word and made it into a term of endearment, it’s used so much that it’s become a substitute for identifiers such as “that guy” or “him” etc.

And for Don West to argue that the use of the word “nigga” was racial for Trayvon is incomprehensible, especially because he used it on a person who was not of African descent.

For Rachel, these little cultural differences get lost in translation. And instead of trying to understand her, people are reducing the miscommunication to semantics, what they call her broken “King’s English” and her anger. Without even realizing that she comes from a home where Creole is her first language, or that her friend was killed just seconds after he last spoke to her. Wouldn’t you be frustrated in front of a court that refuses to understand you?

But most importantly, if there is anything that Black people can understand that those judging her are not, it’s the loss of life without justice.

And as Rachel Jeantel sits on the stand, nervous, mumbling and annoyed, it’s not that she’s just a “hoodrat with no media training from a hostile environment.”

It’s just that your world and our world are … excuse the cliché … worlds apart.

And that, my friends, was never Rachel Jeantel’s fault.

Christina Coleman is the news and politics editor at GlobalGrind, where this story first appeared, and a Howard University alumna. Prior to this she was a science writer. Follow her on Twitter @ChrissyCole.



  1. Christina Coleman, you lack objectivity and your slanted, biased reporting give real journalism a black eye.
    People in the who would imprison an innocent man for their personal racist version of events are disgusting.

  2. 1) Why is black always capitalized but white is not?
    2) This is the most biased piece of "journalism" I have ever seen,
    3) The excuse that black people cannot go to the police is such a cop out, pardon the pun. Building trust with law enforcement starts by doing the right thing. Always. Not calling the cops when there is a fight is obviously the wrong thing to do, and the fear to call them builds upon the distrust.

  3. privileged whihte people, why because they take advantage of the education system, to learn, while blacks think it is cool to learn ebonics, is that what you mean when you say privileged

  4. For the curious minded. I took the infamous 911 tape into the studio.

    I compressed it so the lows came up a bit, limited it so you can hear other low sounds without your ears bleeding when the shots ring out. I then (thanks to the wonders of digital, couldn't do this with tape) slowed it down to just over half speed but PITCHED it back up to 100%.

    In other words.. you can hear the call without it hurting your ears, at a speed that is easier to digest and get a sense of. The pitch however is true to source. And there has been no EQ or altering ANY of the tonalities, although there are inherent nuanced swirly artifacts from slowing anything down that radically.

    Anyway, make of it what you will.. if you want to actually HEAR the call, I wouldn't discount taking a listen to this version. The way I have done it is almost Akin to slowing down a video tape.

    Zimmerman Martin Altercation

  5. As a white person, I was initially shocked by how racist black people are when I came across this web site. But now I know, and it's better to know.

  6. Black people are not racist. They cannot be. They didnt open this door. Us white people did. We went to Africa and took them out of their land, dragged them to the US make them work for free told them they were nothing, beat them, abused them, raped their women, impregnated them neglected AND enslaved the children we created with them. Then when they were free we made up laws that kept them separate from us in a country they built and then told them to figure it out when we stopped them from getting an education, an equal education after hundreds of years of denying them the right to read and write … making it illegal and punchishible by death. And you want to call black people racist? Zimmerman would not carry a gun if he did fear for his life. White people are terribly afraid of Black people. Afraid because we know that what we did for hundreds of years to them was wrong wrong wrong and we are afraid they will get us back. Angry, upset, they should be. But where is our humility? Who are the real cowards here? If us white people should blame anyone, it should be our selfish forefathers for NOT thinking about the implication of slavery and the "laws of the land". Yes, Zimmerman is free because the order of the law was followed. Problem is there are way too many laws set up to criminalized Black people and protect whites. And really, Black people are people of African decent … they are not even Black. What kind of archaic thinking refers to a group of people as black and white?? Is San Francisco racist?

  7. I’ll immediately snatch your rss as I can’t to find your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly allow me recognize in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.

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