The Victim Parade
Oh, my. Here it comes now: The Victim Parade.
In the wake of star witness Rachel Jeantel’s testimony in the George Zimmerman case, a flood of narrative shaping litanies has been unleashed decrying the maltreatment of said star witness. MsRachel_94‘s Twitter feed has as its tagline the words, “My Character And Action Describe Who I Am” and after 7 mostly combative hours on the stand, in which she fairly spat the word “Sir” at defense attorneys, most of America is familiar with both her character and actions. She is the face of underclass black America, and indicative of its attitude toward anyone not swaddled in the suffocating hold of black underclass culture.
In one such litany called What White People Don’t Understand About Rachel Jeantel, author Rachel Samara displays part of what it is that irks so many American whites. It’s in the very first line:
A predominantly white jury is not going to like Rachel Jeantel. Let’s just be real here.
After a lifetime of being told we are not to pigeon-hole people, that we must treat them as individuals deserving of respect for their human status, to see a women on a black-oriented hip hop website resort to the exact same behavior she spends 20+ paragraphs decrying is annoying. Nevermind that Samara is a thin blond chick or that one could easily portray her the same way people on the left portray the women of Fox News: as a disingenuous foil being used for her looks to sell a point of view the group of men in charge don’t believe in. That’s just icing on this poisoned cake.
In another screed at the Sad Bastard Bar, an actual immigrant stands in defense of the American-born, English-speaking Jeantel because she couldn’t be understood. The defense offered? The same one used by the prosecution; she had a Haitian mom who spoke Creole sometimes. This is being portrayed across the web as The Most Important Reason she couldn’t talk straight. This false sympathy chaps at the hide because Jeantel spoke good English when she wanted to, and she spoke clearly when she wanted to. The problem wasn’t her English, it was her apathy and attitude, her insistence on proving her hood credibility in a court of law, and on national television.
No one in that courtroom gave a shit about her hood credibility or her court nails, and for good reason. It was a court of law and a second degree murder trial, one in which one young man was dead and another young man’s life was hanging in the balance. This is serious shit requiring serious attention and serious conduct.
A black man at DailyKos, the clearinghouse for progressive race relations, has a recommended diary called The Digital Lynching of Rachel Jeantel. Like the other articles linked above, it’s heavy on emotional exploitation and light on logic. In Vyan’s telling, Rachel:
…was an amazingly shy teenager. At times introverted, distraught and occasionally brittle. She was not Media Trained. She’s not massively articulate.
This of course didn’t stop her from becoming a laughing stock online.
Among the great ironies of this diary is the linking of a Salon article within it, where a quote about her not being blond and thin, and there goes her credibility…was included, which I suppose brings us back to Samara from the first linked article.
The irony and assumptions present in the articles about white people are astounding, and will do little to cultivate alliances with white people who genuinely care about Civil Rights issues. Oh, sure, those who speak the progressive language, who’ve gladly slapped on their white guilt shackles, will get it, but those aren’t the kinds of people these authors need on their side. That is, if changing what they perceive as evidence of white racism is their agenda. I’m not convinced it is.
The upside to all of this is that we are, finally, getting to have that conversation on race that President Obama said we needed to have in 2008. I want to do my part. What I perceived of Jeantel was that she is evidence of the failure of our national attempts to address race relations, to end racism in America. She is exactly the kind of person I avoid in any government office, or while shopping or seeking services. Her hostility toward life in general, and white people in particular, is not something I want to have to deal with. And yet, I do, often.
By way of example, a while ago I took my daughter and her friend on vacation in the northeast. We stopped at a grocery store near the Susan B. Anthony House, which is located in a predominantly black neighborhood in Rochester, NY. We were going to campsite near the Finger Lakes and I needed to buy about $12 worth of groceries. The store had one of those card systems; one price if you had the card, a higher price if you didn’t. I had calculated our meager funds practically to the penny to see us through to the next day, when my paycheck would be deposited in our account. When I got to the cashier and learned I needed the card, I asked her, a teenaged black girl, if they had one at the register, which is standard practice at my local grocery store. I explained that I was traveling through and didn’t need a card as I would likely never shop at the chain again.
They didn’t, she informed me, and I must go stand in the line to sign up for one. I dutifully went and stood in a line, and a charming old black man, who’d been behind me in line, stopped on his way out and said he’d be happy to help me by allowing me to use his card. So we went back to the cashier, who’d been watching our discussion, and she blocked the transaction. We weren’t allowed to share cards, she told us. At this point I got frustrated. I’d been subject to this treatment before and had an inkling she was being difficult because I was white.
I was right. After going back to stand in the line for a card I would never need again and standing there at length, the other cashier at the store approached me and called me over to her line, which had been full when the original cashier was dealing with me. She pulled a card from beneath her register, scanned it, and I paid for my items, thanked her very much for her help, and was on my merry way in about three minutes. The ordeal before this had cost me 30 minutes of travel time. For what? So the teenaged cashier could prove something about whitey?
I wish I could say this was the only incident I’ve ever had where I picked up on passive aggressive racial animus, but it wasn’t. It happens all the time, and not just to me. It happens to wait staff frequently, who often don’t get tipped by black patrons, it happens to people trying to get services at BMVs and courthouses around the country. It happened to my spouse last week at the library when he tried to get a library card. I’ve encountered it at the workplace, too.
Now, I know some black people who read this will snicker and think to themselves, so what? I deal with this all the time. Or, how does it feel? But that was never the point of the Civil Rights movement, or people’s genuine interest, mine included, in addressing race issues in America. This is not some grand experiment in us trading places, or in us pulling each other down to the lowest common denominator. It’s about respect, and I decidedly don’t feel it coming from certain quarters of my fellow citizens, even though I myself always try to treat others with respect. If others are allowed to complain about this state of affairs and expect their complaints to be taken seriously, so should people like me.
That’s one part of my frustration with this narrative developing about Rachel Jeantel. People like me are being told that we must respect where she comes from, even in the face of her hostility toward everyone else. We’re told we must feel sorry for her circumstance, even though it’s clear as day that she doesn’t care and is perfectly comfortable with the squalor from which she comes. That is unacceptable to many people, because we are out here trying every day to improve our lives and the lives of others when and where we can. It’s not too much to expect that from our fellow citizens.
The other part of it is the disingenuousness o f the messengers. The Samaras, Sad Bastards, and Vyans of the world have likely very recently made a hard-hearted joke or mocked the likes of Honey Boo Boo, or toothless Southerners. They would ask us to understand that Jeantel only knows the few square blocks around her house, even as they mercilessly mock the trailer park kid who only knows the rows of trailers in his or her park. They decry that people mock a 19 year old for being fat, even as they mock an 8 year old for being fat. They say we should feel sympathy for Jeantel’s lack of education and the circumstances of her life, even as they have little to no sympathy for whites in similar situations.
We are not having a contest over who can be the shittiest, or at least we shouldn’t be, but that’s what it has devolved into. Half a century ago white Americans we asked to look at , inspect, and change their behavior, to notice their own shortcomings and address their weaknesses. They did so, and while every wrong has not been corrected, the country is a vastly improved place in which to be a person of color. We no longer have reading tests to vote, lynchings, or overt professional barriers, nor are the nation’s colleges and military ranks closed to black Americans. It is now past time for black Americans and other Americans of color to do the same. Because we are not going to get any better until they do their part, and as long as apathy and ridicule are the name of the game, the Jeantel’s of the world will be fair game. There’s a reason she thinks “cracker” is the norm, instead of a display of racial insensitivity. And that mindset should be mocked right out of existence.
In the meantime, cheap attempts to exploit emotions while ignoring the factual evidence on display will continue to play badly, if they have any effect at all. White Americans, like black Americans, are not a monolithic group, and pretending that they are is offensive and intellectually lazy. If people, all people regardless of race, creed, national original, sex or sexuality, want a fair world to live in, they will have to take responsibility for creating a fair one in the areas they inhabit. If they don’t, their disingenuous cries are likely to be ignored or avoided. Quit it with the victim parade, and be sure you have inspected your own soul for sin before you come bringing stones to my house.