While Rachel Jeantel’s testimony last week was a crucial piece of the prosecution’s case in the George Zimmerman trial, her time on the stand—and the social media reaction that erupted after it—also exposed how society views race and class.
“How is it the first instinct of so many of us to mock her or be worried about how she represents to others?” said msnbc host Melissa Harris-Perry on her show Sunday.
Harris-Perry added that, at the core of Jeantel’s testimony, is the fact that “she’s a teenage girl who lost her friend.”
George Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and is saying that he shot Martin in self-defense.
Jeantel’s speech patterns and physical appearance during her testimony were picked apart online.
“We talk so often about how black bodies are criminalized, and black people are criminalized and in this case, by proxy, it seems that a whole class of people were criminalized by her diction and her grammar,” said Trymaine Lee, national reporter for msnbc.com.
The misconceptions that inform how society views blackness all are at play in this circumstance of social media fallout on Jeantel, Harris-Perry argued. Among these accepted norms is the “expectation that certain kinds of bodies will experience certain kinds of things.” The host explains: “Oh and an overweight, dark skinned black woman’s friend being dead. Isn’t that what she expected out of life? Since those are the stories we tell, we think think that is the story she expects to live.”
Editor’s note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.