Rachel Jenteal, self nicknamed Diamond Eugene, is the young lady who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin shortly before he was shot and killed.
She’s 19 years old, and in my opinion, she’s still a teenager. But you wouldn’t know it by reading some of the comments about her, because she’s not behaving in court the way many would like. At times she was combative, rude, and many times her voice was too low to hear properly during Wednesday’s testimony. She also used terms that many of her peers have coined, like “that’s real retarded.”
If she were my child (and since I have a close relative who’s retarded) that phrase would not be tolerated. However, it was also used in a song by The Black Eyed Peas, called “Let’s Get Retarded” before they wisely altered it to “Let’s Get it Started.”
While I find the use of “retarded” as an insult to be offensive, and don’t allow it in my home, I’m well aware that others have no such qualms.
Rachel also stated under oath that Trayvon called George Zimmerman a “creepy ass cracker” because he said he was being followed, and “Oh shit, the nigga is still behind me.” In addition, screen grabs of her Twitter account have been published online, and some of her tweets reveal her drinking tastes and that this has taken a toll on her.
But otherwise, at least in my mind, her twitter feed is nothing shocking. I’ve seen worse. You can read more about this teen putting her personal life in the public here:
On Thursday, Rachel challenged co-defense Attorney Don West’s assertion that it was Trayvon Martin who’d brought race into this tragic scenario of events. West tried to get Rachel Jenteal (I’m still investigating the correct spelling of her last name. I’ve seen it written as Jenteal and also Jeantel. My apologies if I’m spelling it incorrectly) to admit to this, by asking her whether “creepy ass cracker” was a racist term.
Try as he might, Rachel stuck to her opinion.
In my opinion? Yes it is. However I’m old enough to be Rachel’s grandmother. And you know what else? I didn’t have any trouble understanding her. I also acknowledge that West was doing his job, which was to catch any inconsistencies in Rachel’s testimony. I didn’t care for his demeanor however, which at times alternated from subtly condescending to outright smugness.
What?! How so? some might ask.
Wait for it, because there’s an Instagram photo coming up that would seem to confirm my observation. West was also applying a tactic I call painting someone as the “other.” Because if he can succeed in making the jury think that by extension, Rachel Jenteal represents Trayvon Martin, then he can whittle away at any sympathy the jury might have for the victim. It’s a way of depicting Martin as the aggressor/racial profiler/George had no choice but to shoot this guy without being obvious about it. Or so he thinks.
Meanwhile on social media, at some point Lolo Jones unwisely decided to bash Rachel in a totally uncalled for tweet. Now Lolo is no stranger to controversy, or being roast in the media and whining about it. Yet here’s what she tweeted:
However, Rachel does have supporters, myself included. And here’s a site with a collection of messages of encouragement for Ms. Jeantel:
Because of her demeanor in court Rachel Jenteal has now been typecast by some. She’s not being “helpful” and she’s not contrite like Aibileen from The Help. And though she’s fiery like Minny, she’s not mirthful, so that makes her the “angry” black woman. But more damning to some, is that her behavior may have an impact on what the jury ultimately decides, and that may be a non-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman.
I won’t post the truly offensive tweets or comments about Rachel Jenteal, especially those which demean her physical appearance.
You see, a black woman can be dark, heavy set and inarticulate, but she also needs to behave one of two ways in America to be “beloved”:
Jolly and self-effacing, quick with the quips, “sassy” and boisterous or as the marketing for The Help crowed “her heart is always in the right place”
Octavia Spencer received an Oscar and several other awards for breathing new life into this tired stereotype, and uttering lines that made no sense, like “frying chicken make you tend to feel better about life.”
This advice was simply the insertion of a known slur about blacks loving fried chicken. Unfortunately for Rachel Jenteal, there will be no accolades for her performance. While Rachel was teary eyed and belligerent during her testimony on Wednesday, and showed a bit more restraint on Thursday, she’s already been judged and found guilty.
The filters one needs to appear saintly, or even to parse words so that others can be won over are not there yet with Rachel. But she wasn’t the one on trial. It’s George Zimmerman. And because I’m older, I recognized the head games being played, the repetition of asking her to state something over and over, which caused her frustration and embarrassment at admitting she couldn’t read incursive. Still, her situation is not unusual to me, and it’s also not limited to the black community in America. This is not solely a cultural difference as many have stated. But it also involves current technology, and how the younger generation communicates with each other, which is different from previous generations. Everything is shortened. Even our language. And our level of patience, especially at that age.
That’s why it’s important for parents to also learn to navigate social network sites, so that they can better prepare their children and explain just what it means to practically live on the internet.
On Rachel’s second day taking the stand, George Zimmerman’s attorney Don West gently chided “You seem different today. Did someone speak with you? (about her demeanor the day before).
Rachel replied in an equally soft voice, that she’d gotten some sleep, though her eyes still narrowed in his direction.
West then said he couldn’t hear her, and Rachel repeated her answer, keeping her voice soft and calm. Yes, it’s sad to say, but she’s now beginning to learn a hard lesson.
But here’s the irony. Attorney Don West is currently embroiled in his own public relations fiasco. Because it’s being reported that the screen shot just below was posted by his daughter, which proclaims West scored points because “We beat stupidity” (Now, what or who is this statement referring to?) also part of the controversy is the wording of the hashtag “#Dad killed it” since this is a murder trial and the victim is just 17 years old.
It would seem to me that West wouldn’t want anymore notoriety, not after opening with a knock knock joke that wasn’t the least bit funny. And right now, just like Rachel Jenteal faced scorn on the internet for not appearing serious enough, he and his daughters are feeling the heat also. Social grace stumbles in this new age of technology appear impartial to race, ethnicity, education or economic status.
Update: George Zimmerman’s attorney Don West told The Daily Caller in a statement that his daughter made an “immature and insensitive comment” under an Instagram photo on Thursday, for which she is sorry.
The other accepted caricature for African Americans is the Aibileen model. Shy, cringing, cowering. Knowing one’s place. Born to serve. In short, A MAMMY
“Of course I had trepidations. Why do I have to play the mammy? But what do you do as an actor if one of the most multi-faceted and rich roles you’ve ever been given is a maid in 1962 Mississippi? Do you not take the role because you feel in some ways it’s not a good message to send to Black people?” – Viola Davis, in a quote from Essence Magazine
“I’m playing a maid, a black actress playing a maid in 2011 in Hollywood, is a lot of pressure. You don’t play a maid. That is something you don’t do. When you play a maid where a white woman has written a story and a white man is directing it, so there is no way that it’s gonna be. . . I’m essentially playing a Mammy. So I felt a lot of pressure. Absolutely. And then and of course pressure from the readers who all wanted Oprah to play the role. And saw her as being seventy years old and about two hundred and fifty pounds or you know, yeah, I felt a lot of pressure. But it’s like Tate says, if you work from that point of pressure and fear, your work is gonna crack. At some point you just have to leave it alone. And know that we have our own standard of excellence . . .”
Link: Atlanta Mom’s on The Move http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shc0mdT-0Cc
Had Rachel Jenteal behaved on the stand like either of these accepted stereotypes, a lot more people would be comfortable with her, as many readers and moviegoers were with the black domestics in The Help. Instead, to some Rachel came across too real, too raw, too rough.
And yet, she managed to sit for hours at time, just a few feet away from the man who’s admitted killing Trayvon Martin:
“You gotta understand . . . I’m the last person — you don’t know how I felt. You think I really want to go see the body after I just talked to him?” – Rachel Jenteal quote while under oath, when asked why she didn’t attend services for Trayvon Martin.
Movies, records and TV have spoiled us. We expect 19 year olds to be rights activists with movie star good looks, because after all, they are on TV, why just look at all the kids who are polished stars by that age.
But it’s one thing to have a difference of opinion on her testimony. It’s hitting below the belt to try to demean her as a young black female, on of all things, her appearance.
I’m very uncomfortable, and mad as hell with how some are focusing solely on her looks and pattern of speech. I’m sick and tired of some people trying to make black women feel ashamed of our bodies or our complexion, as if there’s only one standard of beauty.
You know what I saw on the stand? A young lady with gorgeous, skin, a flawless brown complexion, lovely, upturned eyes. And she was tastefully dressed.
There’s nothing wrong with the way this young lady looks. Let me say that again. THERE IS NOTHING WHAT SO EVER WRONG WITH THE WAY THIS YOUNG LADY LOOKS. And as a parent, there was nothing out of the ordinary about her demeanor. Because she’s still a teenager. She has time to learn and to grow. Which is something Trayvon Martin will never be able to do.
And may I remind some people, that this is EXACTLY what some were doing to Trayvon Martin? Judging him simply on his looks, his twitter feed, and because he was a seventeen year old black male. There was an outcry then. Why no outcry now, at how Rachel Jenteal is being mocked and condemned?
Yet Trayvon’s friend is facing a double standard, simply for being who she is. A nineteen year old female in America, doing what others do on Twitter and Facebook, posting photos of her nails and spilling out things someone older, and more savvy would hide.
So let me bring more history into this post. Because there was a time that this woman, who I call a Lioness for Civil Rights, the one and only Fannie Lou Hamer, was once a 19 year old just like Rachel. Fannie didn’t join the rights movement until she was in her forties. And some would say that her speech wasn’t articulate. And that she was heavy set and brown, and the powers that be at that time labeled her belligerent (back then they used the word “uppity”) because she refused to cower and grin. Fannie was much too real for some people. Here’s what she said at the 1963 Democratic Convention, the speech President Lyndon Johnson deemed too controversial for prime time and American viewers, so the network cut away just as she was talking (however since it was recorded, it was broadcast later that night):
“Mr. Chairman, and to the Credentials Committee, my name is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, and I live at 626 East Lafayette Street, Ruleville, Mississippi, Sunflower County, the home of Senator James O. Eastland, and Senator Stennis.
It was the 31st of August in 1962 that eighteen of us traveled twenty-six miles to the county courthouse in Indianola to try to register to become first-class citizens.
We was met in Indianola by policemen, Highway Patrolmen, and they only allowed two of us in to take the literacy test at the time. After we had taken this test and started back to Ruleville, we was held up by the City Police and the State Highway Patrolmen and carried back to Indianola where the bus driver was charged that day with driving a bus the wrong color.
After we paid the fine among us, we continued on to Ruleville, and Reverend Jeff Sunny carried me four miles in the rural area where I had worked as a timekeeper and sharecropper for eighteen years. I was met there by my children, who told me that the plantation owner was angry because I had gone down to try to register.
After they told me, my husband came, and said the plantation owner was raising Cain because I had tried to register. Before he quit talking the plantation owner came and said, “Fannie Lou, do you know – did Pap tell you what I said?”
And I said, “Yes, sir.”
He said, “Well I mean that.” He said, “If you don’t go down and withdraw your registration, you will have to leave.” Said, “Then if you go down and withdraw,” said, “you still might have to go because we are not ready for that in Mississippi.”
And I addressed him and told him “I didn’t try to register for you. I tried to register for myself.”
Read and hear the remainder of her statement here:
I‘m not saying Rachel Jeantel is Fannie Lou Hamer. I’m saying at 19, Fannie Lou Hamer wasn’t the Fannie Lou Hamer who stands tall in civil rights history.
I don’t know what’s in store for Rachel’s future. But anything’s possible.
However, I need some of the younger people who may be reading this to understand. The individuals being held up today as legendary leaders in the black community, weren’t always depicted that way in the 60s. Back then, national and local newspapers, radio and TV sometimes deemed them far too often as troublemakers, uneducated, uppity, causing problems among the “good negroes” who were obedient, in short, the people who were part of the freedom movement were ridiculed and hounded, because they didn’t fit the stereotype of how a “good negro” should behave, all because they appeared “different.”
No, there’s nothing unusual about Rachel Jeantel. But what is extraordinary, are the circumstances by which she’s come into the public eye. And maybe, that’s what deserves more scrutiny, more reflection, and less intolerance.
For more on the Diverse Heroines of The Civil Rights Movement, see this post:
“I IS WHAT I IS”
“Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is” or what gender a person is . . . It’s what’s in your heart and in your head that matters to us.” -Paula Deen’s answer under oath, noted in the deposition papers.
Unfortunately for Deen, there’s a video that contradicts that statement. Take a look at how Paula Deen describes and summons a black man she says is like her son, a valued employee who has worked for her company over 18 years. Notice how Deen makes a point to single this employee out for of all things, how dark he appears in her eyes:
“I have a young man in my life, his name is Hollis Johnson and he’s black as that board. Come out here Hollis. We can’t see you standing against that dark board.”
After the host says, “Welcome to New York” to Hollis Johnson, Deen quips, “Welcome to the south!”
Deen then goes on to joke, “But you know, I tell people he’s my son by another father . . . ” Next comes a lengthy, and I’d say heartfelt statement on what Hollis Johnson means to her. But by that time the damage had been done. And Paula Deen’s views on race become clearer.
Link to this video footage:
After seeing and hearing that, even with Paula taking his hand and giving “testimony” on how deeply she felt for Hollis, her affection was moot as far as I was concerned. What she showed was that insulting the man’s color publicly, and expecting it to be funny to all was ingrained in her. Had the same type of non-compliment been directed to her by someone of color, something tells me there would be no laughter. It also sheds light on just how unaware (or clueless, take your pick) Deen is at how unsettling her own actions are, and perhaps there’s some truth to how her employees are treated, thus the working environment could be uncomfortable, to say the least.
“I is what I is, and I’m not changing” -Paula Deen’s quote on The Today Show.
Now, contrast both Rachel Jenteal and Paula Deen’s behavior with what was written in The Help. Please take note of how often a character’s skin color was referred to as black, and not in a way that the reader would think the color was attractive, but as if it were some sort of handicap:
“That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me.” – (Pg 189 Aibileen’s battle of wits with a cockroach in the novel The Help)
“We was all surprised Constantine would go and . . . get herself in the family way. Some folks at church wasn’t so kind about it, especially since when the baby come out white. Even though the father was black as me.” – (Pg 358 Aibileen describing Constantine’s ex-lover and father of her mulatto daughter Lulabelle, Connor)
“Minny doesn’t smile back. She is fat and short and strong. Her skin is blacker than Aibileen’s by ten shades, and shiny and taut, like a pair of patent leather shoes.” (Pg 164 Skeeter’s observation of Minny, the first time she meets her)
“Sometimes two girls from next door would come over to play with me, named Mary Nell and Mary Roan. They were so black I couldn’t tell them apart, and called them both just Mary.” (Pg 62 Skeeter’s observation of two childhood playmates)
Pascagoula is described as tiny as a child, not five feet tall, and black as night (Pg 59 Skeeter describes her family’s new maid)
Constantine was so close, I could see the blackness of her gums (Pg 65) Skeeter
The foreman drags a red cloth across his black forehead, his lips, his neck. (Pg 239) Skeeter
The women are tall, short, black like asphalt or caramel brown. If your skin is too white, I’m told, you’ll never get hired The blacker the better. – (Pg 257) Skeeter
And here’s a section where Aibileen gave a former charge advice to grow on, specifically on how not to “turn colored”, which highlights just how self loathing the character was concerning her race:
How his foot fell asleep and he say it tickle. I told him that was just his foot snoring. And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine. (Pg 91) Aibileen
Aibileen isn’t just saddled with being a Mammy. She’s also such an Uncle Tom she never gets angry though she’s treated like a doormat, and she’s used to salivate over how Yule May’s hair has no naps. She does hiss at the character of Gretchen to get out, when Gretchen confronts Skeeter. The Help is full of descriptions which border on WTF? a number of times when the author describes an African American character. They are “black” much like Paula Deen’s free flowing comments on Hollis Johnson. Stockett even claimed in the back of her novel that her childhood maid, Mrs. Demetrie McLorn was “stout and dark-skinned and, by then, married to a mean, abusive drinker named Clyde.” Pg 447, under the section TOO LITTLE TOO LATE
Here’s a photo of Mrs. McLorn, and also please note, that’s a white baby she’s holding:
However this is the real-life maid of Stockett’s brother, Abilene Cooper. Cooper filed a lawsuit that was tossed out due to the statute of limitations, where she claimed the character of Aibileen Clark was based upon her, and that Stockett had taken pieces of her life without her permission. Stockett denied this, but contrast how Viola Davis appears in the film vs. Cooper:
For more on Abilene Cooper, the real life maid who filed the lawsuit, please see this post:
Next, please take a look at a screen shot from a copy of the script for The Help, which was available for public viewing and downloading on the studio’s website:
Much like Paula Deen, both the novel and the screenplay reflect a preoccupation with skin color, especially with those considered dark being labeled “black.” Whether Deen, Stockett or Tate Taylor realized it, this is a viewpoint handed down from slavery and also segregation, passed from generation to generation, especially of those residing in the south.
During segregation, African Americans, particularly those dark brown were used to spread propaganda on how others of their race should behave. They became the poster child for good race relations:
The tendency in old Hollywood was make both black females and males meek and guileless, affable and easily lead in order to have them acceptable to white audiences. Thus the mantra of performers like Hattie McDaniel and Stepin Fetchit being a “credit to their race” was based on how well they popularized the ideal behavior of blacks, which was rooted in caricature since their character traits had been created by white writers during segregation.
A few other examples that unfortunately, have a heaping dose of making the dark in complexion black character “acceptable” by having them slow but sweet:
In The Blind Side, even though Michael Oher knew very well how to play football (and other sports, like basketball), the film instead shows scenes of his loving, adoptive family teaching him in record time how to “protect the family” by becoming a top offensive back in high school. Oher currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens and has written his own book which addresses some of the inaccuracies of the film.
The Uncle Remus character was a popular set of books, and finally, a movie by Disney studios. The actor playing Uncle Remus was awarded a special Oscar for his role in the film Song of the South even though he was not allowed to attend the ceremony.
For more information on what went wrong in The Help, and the negative myths from segregation that the novel resurrected, please see these posts:
Coming up . . . Depicting African Americans as the “other” for profit, for propaganda, and for pity
This post is still in development . . .