Thursday, June 27, 2013

The social media stoning of Rachel Jeantel


When Rachel Jeantel testified in her friend Trayvon Martin’s murder trial yesterday she was called fat, ignorant, sassy, ugly and manly.

Jeantel was called everything except what she is, a witness in one of the most significant criminal trials in recent history – a young woman who heard her friend fight for his life.

Social media users called Jeantel a thug, an embarrassment to humanity and to black America. Some joked that she is worthy of a Saturday Night Live skit, a living stereotype, an example of America’s failing education system. Here's a Storify of some of the tweets. 




Those tweets reveal some of the things that some Americans believe is wrong with this country, but more deeply, what’s wrong with young black women. Attacks on Jeantel’s hair, body, speech, grammar and attitude all seemed to be proof for social media users that young black women are fools.

Social media empowers users to mobilize quickly and spread information about a common cause to raise awareness and provoke change. But it also allows users to express ugly thoughts at lightening speed and with anonymity. Social media enables users to throw digital rocks and hide their hands. After Jeantel’s testimony Twitter users’ insults grew into a social media stoning.

One of the most common criticisms about Jeantel was that she looked like Precious, the overweight, undereducated character with a deep brown complexion portrayed by actress Gabourey Sidibe. That criticism was particularly troubling because social media users assaulted her appearance because she lives in a body that this society finds repugnant - one that is large, black and female. Jeantel’s is a body that holds no value in this society so she is perceived as a person who is not valuable or credible. So for some people anything that came out of her mouth, even in the most perfect English grammar and diction, would be meaningless.

Black folks had their share of criticism for Jeantel too. The black respectability police on Twitter pondered if her father is in her life. They said if George Zimmerman is acquitted it would be her fault because of her sassy attitude. Black folks said girls like Jeantel are the type to keep away from their children.  

Social media users mocked the fact that Jeantel testified that she doesn’t watch the news. How many people in their late teens and early 20s do watch the news, especially young people of color? Part of the reason why they don’t watch the news is because they only see reflections of themselves that are stigmatized, mocked and ridiculed much like the discourse about Jeantel on social media and mainstream media after the first day of her testimony.




The ugly comments that circulated through social media about Jeantel’s speech, looks, mannerisms, race and education reveal the deep-rooted classism, racism, sexism and lookism in America and our inability to focus on what was important yesterday – justice. Yesterday young black womanhood seemed to be on trial instead of Zimmerman.

Last year Trayvon Martin’s murder was thrust into the spotlight by social media and black media. Mainstream media ignored the story until they were forced to start paying attention to online activism on social networks. Social media activism helped push law enforcement to investigate Trayvon’s murder and not just brush it off as another nameless, faceless dead black boy. Now social media is dissecting and devouring the last person who spoke with him.

Rachel Jeantel will return to the witness stand today. More sarcastic gifs, memes and comments about her will surely be created.  But I hope social media users will invest more time into listening to her testimony and think before they post another mean photo or comment about a girl who is testifying in her friend’s murder trial.

34 comments:

  1. You have used your powers for good. May we, "the talented 10th!" who have been afforded opportunity NEVER imagine that we don't owe our people the empowering, compassionate analysis and treatment your piece advocates.

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  2. Very well said and thought provoking. Loved this line in particular: "she lives in a body that this society finds repugnant - one that is large, black and female."

    reminds me that our "selves" are not the containers we carry them in

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    1. That's a wonderful line: our "selves" are not the containers we carry them in.

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  3. America needs prayer; Grown folks acting kids the media needs to keep their comments solo people an't trying to hear that drama, Let justice be done for this young man and his family so he can rest in peace. God knows the the truth, and God bless this young lady for having to relive these moments. Peace

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  4. I couldn't care less what she looks like, if she's a straight A student or not. So I did take the time to listen to her testimony and there is one thing she said that stood out to me. It stood out because it offended me as a human being: "Creepy @$$ cracker is not a racial comment" in Jeantel's world. See, I'm a creepy @$$ cracker and here's the thing, it's offensive, it's degrading to me as a woman, a Caucasian (and I'm not apologizing for the color of my skin) and as a human being.

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    1. She was repeating what Trayvon said while he was being stalked by Zimmerman. But seriously, if your response to how Rachel Jenteal is being treated is to be offended at the word cracker, than you have seriously messed up priorities. Anti-black racism and being called a cracker are not even comparable. While seeing a white person being referred to as a cracker may offend your delicate sensibilities, you don't live in a system and society that hates you. I'm offended you even thought this was necessary to say on an article that is not about you, but about Rachel Jenteal and Trayvon Martin.

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    2. Cracker who uses the term "cracker" to make fun of crackers says, THANK you.

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    3. Of course if a "white" person says they are offended by being called a cracka, you turn it around and make it about you! Typical racial bullshit! Don't even know WHY I would comment on this because it's such CRAP! You make my blood boil! Anti Black my cracka ass! Boo on you

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  5. Andrea, as one "creepy @$$ cracker" to another, I've got tell you that out of all of the slurs thrown at me about the meat that hangs off my bones in an effort to make me feel "less than", being called a cracker hurts not one bit. I've checked in with the other crackers in my house, and they're with me on this. And even if it did sting, how relevant are my personal feelings to this discussion? Not. one. bit. "White Woman Tears", yours or mine are of no value here.

    The story is about a young woman who has taken the stand to give her account of the events of the night in question. For the past few days the person who has been questioning her is the defense counsel, a person who is paid very well to try to rattle her so that the testimony she provides will not be regarded as credible. The story is also about how she is being ripped to shreds in the media and on the internet for being too big, too black & too working class. She was not born into the type of privileged circumstances where she was surrounded by college educated English speakers from the moment she slipped into the world, so she is being called stupid, "ghetto", ignorant, "an embarrassment" and so on. That is the story that we are discussing here.

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    1. Actually she is being ripped to shreds for being a complete fool. Her being black and fat are purely coincidental.

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  6. Echolalia that's the problem with "crackers" we don't stand up for ourselves when niggers say racist and degrading bullshit to us. Most just simply brush it off as you do while these damn kinky tops raise hell and protest about the least little thing that they think is racist. It's people like you that cause our rights to be taken away from us; it's ok for a nigger to be racist, but god forbid a cracker be racist. There are things if love to say to your face, I won't sit here and bash you on the Internet, but you need to pull your head out of your ass, have some pride in your fucking race and defend it. Yeah, niggers were our slaves YEARS AGO and slavery is wrong; they aren't the only race that were slaves, but blacks are the only ones still bitching about it and still using the age old line "the white man is holding us down" BULLSHIT you are holding your own selves down. Act like fucking human beings, act like a respectable race and you will get respect. I will proudly admit to anyone that I am racist as hell and I'm proud to be white.

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    1. Your rights aren't being taken away from you. You have no understanding of institutional racism or privilege. You are not even slightly respectable, and yet your entitled ass has the nerve to think you're better than black people. You're not. You're a shitstain and a disgrace to the human race. Go cry somewhere else, asshole.

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    2. wow you used racial slurs and racist language multiple times in an effort to divert racism... think you got bigger problem dude.

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    3. Travis go fuck yourself . You're just upset bc u wish you were like blacks and it's eating u up inside that u arent as strong & powerful as we are. In the end your just a coward bitch that wouldn't dare make these comments in public.... and that's a fact.

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  7. Yeah, this topic is about a young black woman giving her testimony and it would've been better if she wasn't even involved. As someone else said, if zimmerman gets off then she had something to do with it. She is a contradicting, rude, arrogant, typical black female. I've had to deal with black women like her before and it's a pain in the ass. The fact that she is fat is totally irrelevant, but she's 19 and can't read cursive; I don't expect anything more out of her. I know my opinions don't mean a crock of shit but they are like assholes; everyone's got one. George zimmerman would've been killed that night if trayvon Martin hadn't caught the bullet first. Everyone seems to forget about the pics of the mans head and face. Trayvon beat the shit out of the man and if he would've gotten the gun everyone would be singing a different tune right now. "Oh it's just another nigger that killed someone, big deal!" Since we have the non black man that killed this poor innocent little black boy all of a sudden it's just the sin unto death and for fuck's sake the man hasn't got a fucking ice cubes chance in hell of surviving if he's acquitted. The niggers will rally and everything will go to shit. Off topic; have we forgot about OJ and how he killed his wife who happened to be white, but who cares she was just a white woman. Where is the outrage when a Caucasian gets murdered by fucking niggers. As soon as a nigger gets killed by a non nigger, the damn boons raise hell and protest. George zimmerman is INNOCENT. He was defending his life and his neighborhood that night. The little chimp had no business being where he was at. He didn't live there. It was a gated community. Fuck the little spook; if it looks like you're up to no good then you probably aren't. Fuck it, it's one less nigger that Florida will have to pay to keep his black ass in prison Cause we all know he would've ended up there his Facebook tells what kind of thing he was.

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    1. Travis--racism is prejudice + power--the power to back up prejudice with laws and policies that target black and brown people. White people have prejudice and power. Black and brown people may have prejudice, but not that kind of power. For every OJ Simpson, with the money to buy his way out, you have countless regular folks who don't. Combine racism and poverty (classism) and you've got a lot to overcome. And black and brown folks do every day. They are not doing it to you, it's the rich white folks who've got us all against each other. Think about it. I hope you do.

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    2. THis PAGE IS A COMPLETE FRIGGEN JOKE! You people make me sick! I could give a shit if she's black and fat. Rachael is a retard and I would be embarrassed as a Black to stick up for her non educational ass! I'm a big girl and i'm white. If one of you want to make a change, offer to help her out so that she quits talking in ebonics! It's not cute and she will be continually ridiculed because of her lack of education until she does something about it! Listen to her on that idiot Piers Morgan show! That shit gave me a headache trying to figure out what the hell she was saying! LMAO

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  8. Know what I love about this comment thread? Not one person has risen to take the hateful bait in the previous two comments. Slow clap for us all.

    Sherri, this is such a well written essay and I really appreciate you taking the time to share this thoughtful analysis. Well done!

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    1. @ hungrystudent

      Good point. I didn't take the bait, but I did respond. Thanks for bringing it back to Sherri and her excellent essay. I hope you get what you are hungering for!

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    2. I did. I'm in a bad mood already, and I'm sick of entitled white men thinking they're smarter or better than others. It's so disgusting. This dude is the scum of the earth, and I think his comments should be deleted.

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  9. While Rachel Jeantel may not be the most articulate person on the witness stand, she has been consistent with her story. She's held her own against the defense while still holding on to her dignity.

    She's dealing with the knowledge of being the last person who actually spoke to her friend before finding out he died under tragic circumstances. She has and continues to deal with a media firestorm surrounding this trial. She's dealing with a language that's not her first language and a defense attorney who's pulling out all stops to make her look like a liar.

    If anything, Rachel Jeantel serves as a reminder to those of us who are blessed with being better off need to mentor our young people and serve as advocates for the communities in which we reside.

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    1. How can you say she was Consistent????? She was busted and admitted for lying because her stories WEREN'T consistent! Were we watching the same thing? :(

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  10. Thank you Sherri for speaking to this subject. I was quite disturbed with all the negative comments on Facebook,Twitter, etc. Social Media can build people up and just as quickly tear people down. My heart goes out to Rachel Jeantel and I hope she is not emotionally scarred by this whole ordeal. Very well written Sherri!

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  11. I'm not surprised White folks didn't dig Rachel Jeantel. They usually don't dig dark-skinned, plus-sized sistas who don't genuflect to White authority.

    What I am surprised by was how vicious the comments were from Black folks. As if they had never met anyone like Rachel or don't have any Rachels in their own family. Surprised and disgusted.

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    1. Genuflect! You're a genius, Jeffwinbush.

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    2. Jeffwinbush, I was thinking the same thing. It made me think that blacks seem to be most critical of blacks at times, even more so than whites or other races are of blacks. Like when you are watching a news story and the reporter finds the most ghetto black person in the crowd to give their eyewitness account. And then everyone cringes.

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  12. This Travis clown has some deep rooted issues...scum of the earth is too good for him..We wouldn't be here at all if George would have minded his got damn business. Travon had every right to be there...visiting his damn father...where is Travis getting his facts from??

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  13. Holy crap!!... internet tough guy(travis)... bet u look like gargamel....
    sherri great piece. Although i just heard bout this young lady, its sad that this is happening. This is also the world we live in... people have freedom of speech but are taking that to extremes...

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  14. Cracker? Please, cracker is NOTHING like the N word. It's like using the word Scarlet for Red. Cracker is just color, like a Saltine cracker. The N word has a string of TOTALLY different meanings. It was said when African Americans were SLAVES, and when there was SEGREGATION, as in they were thought to be LESS than human, or LESS than whites. Cracker is NOTHING like the N word. Cracker is to Saltine what the N word is to Slaves and Segregation; can't make the comparison. I concur... Travis is scum of the earth. Go cry somewhere else.

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    1. Any racially disparaging term is wrong. I admit slavery was bad and wrong but have you ever personally experienced it? I'll answer that for you. No. You don't understand it and cracker as in white like saltine??? I've never seen someone the color of that. Since you are obviously uneducated ill take a moment with you. The n word came from négro which is the Spanish word for black look it up. So your argument is completely stupid....

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  15. I think you the writer is the racist here. Rachel is not an example of "young black womanhood" and for you to imply that she is shows what you think of young black women. I know thousands of black girls that would take offense to your statement. You are saying they are all overweight, poorly wigged, slow witted and ghetto and I assure you this is not the case. She is the epitomy of a " ghetto black girl" however which is why you see many in the black community speaking out against her. I was raised in Louisiana where my school was at least 50% black all the way through. We all had the same teachers and education yet some, not all, of the black students chose to speak the way she does. You can't mark it up to a social divide or a "stigma" they choose to represent themselves in this manner. People like you are the problem race pushers who act like they care but are truly working for inequality and racial divide. I find it very upsetting that many of you are defending this girl due to your own racial shaming by media bullies like this one. Rachel Jenteal is no more representitave of the black race or culture than honey boo boo and mama June are representative of the white race or culture.

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  16. Why are people feeling sorry for Rachel Jeantel? She is now being hailed as the new African American folk hero for black women. Damn, the bar is getting lower and lower.

    Strength, honor, dignity and courage used to be the qualities of women that were admired.

    Now, the "I-an-unedgewcated-Afrikeen-Amerikeen-womens-an-I asks-how-I-pleases *eye roll, head roll*, gross, undignified sloppy mess is what is being esteemed now.

    So, don't feel bad for her. Her lack of respect for Trayvon, his parents and the reason she was on the witness stand is being forgiven by much of the black community and even some whites. Well, whites pretty much expected her to behave the way she did. Ya know, the typical black woman?

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  17. This may be hard for you to believe but, it has nothing to do with race. This had everything to do with a complete moron on the stand. You actually believe in your apparently racist heart that "I heard wet grass" is an acceptable testimony in a murder trial!? Stop playing the race card, you look as ignorant as her. Think about it..."That's what they do on First 48" is stupid coming from any race.

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  18. Wow I really feel sorry for all of you ppl on here. I give much respect to Rachel and Trayvonn and his parents. In the end they're all who matter to me when it comes to this case. Anything else is irrelevant. I know that some type of revenge will come to GZ for the crime he committed towards Trayvonn just for being black. :-(

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