By Brittney Cooper
Trayvon Martin’s trial might be intriguing, fascinating cultural theater to some. To me, it is more akin to a cultural trauma: a continual reminder of how unsafe all those young Black men that I love actually are as they move through the world — and how tenuous and torturous it would be to seek justice on their behalf. Troubled, though, by the negative characterizations of Trayvon Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel, after her first day of testimony, I tuned in yesterday in a show of sofa-based, sister-girl, solidarity.Immediately, I heard newscasters referring to her prior testimony, which I had watched on video, as combative and aggressive. And I felt my pressure start to rise.These kinds of terms – combat, aggression, anger – stalk Black women, especially Black women who are dark-skinned and plus-sized like Rachel, at every turn seeking to discredit the validity of our experiences and render invisible our traumas. By painting Rachel Jeantel as the aggressor, as the one prone to telling lies and spreading untruths, it became easy for the white male defense attorney to treat this 19 year old, working-class, Black girl, a witness to the murder of her friend, as hostile, as a threat, as the one who needed to be regulated and contained and put in her place.