I was one of the first writers to come to Charles Ramsey’s defense after he was roundly ridiculed by many in the black community after his heroic rescue of three women who were being held captive by a depraved torturer. Much of the discussion surrounding Ramsey—as it related to his Afro, teeth, and exuberant expressions—had more to do with black insecurity than Mr. Ramsey himself. It derived from the desire of many blacks to be held in high esteem by whites, the politics of respectability.
And, certainly as it relates Rachel Jeantel’s testimony, the politics of respectability reared its ugly head once again, with Negro sophisticates calling the teen names and mocking her gesticulations and accent.
I don’t sign on with in any of that. And the nasty Twitter comments, tearing apart the girl’s appearance and speech were vile, even reprehensible, but Twitter has become a haven for cruelty, so I expect it. It comes with anonymity.
However, the raw rage I blindly stumbled across after mildly criticizing Jeantel causes me to question whether some African-Americans have swung too far to the other side of the pendulum, entering a space where all things black are insulated from criticism just for being black.
On Wednesday, I criticized Jeantel for her combative interaction with the defense attorney. Of course it’s the job of the defense team to get under the skin of prosecution witnesses, and in my estimation, they were successful at raising Jeantel’s rancor during her first day of testimony.
Jeantel’s a teenager who has been thrust into a stressful circumstance due to no fault of her own. I understand that. I empathize. I also understand that “don’t you watch the First 48?” is probably not the answer that prosecutors were hoping to hear when Jeantel was asked a question by defense attorneys. Didn’t the prosecution advise her to answer only the questions asked of her? The prosecution team seemed to have dropped the ball in prepping Jeantel for trial, leaving the door open for the teen to go off script, so to speak, which also left the teen open to criticism.
But even my mild criticism of Jeantel’s testimony on Wednesday was immediately derided as anti-black by *conscious* black people. For me, that’s problematic. It’s a sort of group censoring that makes me acutely uncomfortable.
Also, the irony here doesn’t escape me. The African-American community flanked Obama and safeguarded him from all criticism, regardless of whether it was valid, just as Jeantel’s protectors are now doing.
I’m almost proud that the Black community has gone from protecting the wealthiest among us to the weakest among us. It’s a step forward. But doesn’t there have to be a middleground? A safe space for intelligent conversation and criticism?
Charles Ramsey didn’t have a responsibility to help the women he rescued, but he showed up when it mattered. But like it or not, Jeantel has an immense responsibility in weighing in on what happened the night George Zimmeran fired the bullet that tore through Trayvon Martin’s chest. And wherever there is great responsibility, there will be great expectations.
I tweeted Jeantel to congratulate her on what I thought was a masterful second day of testimony, a stark contrast from day one. Jeantel was focused and unyielding. But I’m not going to lie just to get into the good graces of some who believe Jeantel is beyond criticism just because she is a black teen.
If you disagree with me about day one of Jeantel’s testimony, I’m fine with having that conversation. What I’m not OK with is being shouted down. Responding forcefully to disgusting comments about Jeantel is one thing. Shouting down any and all criticism of her testimony is another thing altogether. One is virtuous and admirable, while the other is weak and feeble minded.
Every unfavorable assessment is not tear down, and every criticism is not an act of cruelty. No one should be demeaning Jeantel, but voicing 100 percent support for day one of her testimony should never have become a litmus test for authentic blackness.
Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer turned writer. She is currently an editor and contributor to Your Black World and Founder of BreakingBrown. You can reach Yvette via Twitter @YvetteDC or on Facebook.