A number of people in FYWP have been or will be teaching June Jordan’s essay from Reading Culture to their WR101 classes, so I thought this essay from the Los Angeles Review of Books might provide a useful complement:
FOR FIVE HOURS, Rachel Jeantel, a childhood friend of Trayvon Martin, sat on the stand and tried to recount the last conversation they had before he was murdered. They had known each other since they were in elementary school. Rachel Jeantel was still a high school student when she not only tragically lost her friend but also became the lead witness for the prosecution in the highly publicized murder case that polarized America. It was a trial that would decide if George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon, would face justice. That she was just 19 years old, a teenager, shell-shocked and in mourning, were a few of the least-discussed qualities of Ms. Jeantel. Instead her size, her color, and her speech thrust her into the headlines. Jeantel is a heavyset young woman with brown skin. In the aftermath, even smart publications could not resist drawing comparisons between Ms. Jeantel and director Lee Danielss unconfident, abused, broken bird Precious. It was a comparison that told us almost nothing about Rachel Jeantel and much more about people’s expectations of women who look like Rachel Jeantel: primarily, that if you are heavy and have dark skin in America you shouldn’t dare exist in real life. It was pretty inconvenient then, that on the stand, Ms. Jeantel — sotto voce too — refused to be anyone but herself.