The following is an excerpt written by Gabrielle Daniels aka blksista of This Black Sista’s page. The blog in its entirety is linked here: “Rachel Jeantel: You’d Better Let That Girl Alone“. June 28, 2013.
“Rachel Jeantel is Haitian American. She is probably among the first generations to be thoroughly, culturally assimilated as an African American, but her antecedents are from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. However, her first languages were French Kreyol and Spanish. To me, any African American who can speak (and/or write) in another language other than English is to be admired. Some children—black as well as white—in South Africa, for instance, can speak Afrikaans, English, and three tribal languages by the time they are ten years old.
But English is her third language, learned late in her childhood, and this may be part of her problem. She appears to have either a speech impediment or an impediment compounded by wearing braces on her teeth. At 19, Rachel still has not graduated from high school; she will enter her senior year this fall, which says to me that she has probably had to be kept back. In California, there is such a thing as continuation high schools, in which students who are at-risk or have learning disabilities are allowed to graduate at a slower rate than their contemporaries; I wonder whether she is doing the same in Florida.
Because of her poverty and coming from an immigrant background, she may not have gotten all of the instruction and the encouragement and support soon enough to make a comfortable immersion into English. And school systems for the poor are not the same as school systems for the middle class or the rich. It’s catch as catch can, and even worse if English is not your parents’ language either, and there are no interpreters available to translate concerns to teachers. One result is that Rachel cannot read or write cursive, which made a lot of us realize to our dismay after some research that cursive handwriting is not taught any more in schools; that it is being dropped in state after state, another victim of the keyboard. That change in curriculum is not her fault.
Rachel “DiDi” Jeantel in happier times (Courtesy: Global Grind)
And I have no doubt that she did what many children do in the face of such insurmountable drawbacks. She gave up, or did whatever she could do in order to graduate, in order to fit in somewhere. What fills the gap is a preoccupation with clothes, fingernails and hair, junk food, texting from morn till night, music, trying to be cool, and keeping up with the reality shows and parties. Yep, she drinks, and she smokes dope, but this is…normal for teenagers nowadays. Wrong, but normal. This is what fills the gap for many teens these days regardless of color or of class. Only a few students seem drawn towards the academic or intellectual life these days, and striving towards college seems to make these kids more goal-oriented and mature in certain respects than others at the same age. Which is another reason why I went, huh? when I saw Rachel. I liked all that too when I was young—clothes, movies, The Jackson Five, Mod Squad—but I wanted to go places and to do things, and I wanted a college degree. I liked to read. But she is not me. If she gets to junior college to learn a skill—whether as a cosmetologist or as a pastry cook, and finishes—it will be momentous, a step up in the right direction.
Just because someone is ignorant and does not know how to act in public does not mean that they are stupid. Slower, yes. Out of her depth, yes. Untrained, yes. Limited in access to resources, yes. But not stupid. I repeat: lack of knowledge does not necessarily translate into a deficit in intellectual capacity. Learning disabilities she may have, but Rachel Jeantel is not, repeat, IS NOT STUPID. Not with knowing how to speak French Kreyol and Spanish and negotiating the minefield of English as a third language with defense attorneys who are hell bent on trying to prove that she lied about everything on that fateful night, and that she was coached to say what she said by Trayvon’s bereaved mom. Rachel Jeantel was not on trial, and neither was the dead Trayvon Martin.”