(This video makes more sense if you are under the influence of hallucinogens when you watch it.)
Rachel Jeantel, the star prosecution witness in the George Zimmerman murder trial, has been the subject of barely-masked racial and intellectual contempt since she took the stand on Wednesday, and on Thursday night’s All In with Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes and linguistics expert John McWhorter called out the ugly treatment she has received. McWhorter delved into Jeantel’s consistent and articulate usage of “Black English,” and he and Hayes called out the “willful” nature of defense attorney Don West‘s befuddlement at Rachel’s communication style.
Hayes pulled McWhorter into the discussion by noting that “what we are watching in the courtroom, over the last two days, are two people from very different cultures, from very different linguistic backgrounds, encountering each other while all of America watches. It’s been an incredible thing to watch.”
“She’s speaking Black English,” McWhorter explained. “Everything she says, where you can see the Twittersphere, or people I know thinking she’s making a grammatical mistake. If a Martian came down and the Martian happened to be in South-Central rather than in Grand Rapids, the Martian would have as hard a time figuring out how this dialect worked as any other. She said in the clip that ‘I had told you.’ Many people are thinking, ‘Why is she using that?’ That’s Black English. My cousins did that when I was little. It’s the narrative pluperfect. Linguists talk about it.”
“Needless to say,” McWhorter said, “I think, given how the Trayvon Martin case went, there would seem to be some cause for some preliminary racial grievance for the poor boy, to have had somebody chasing after him for a reason he didn’t know. We do know that’s how it started. Of course he might be refer to the person as a cracker because he’s a human being. And since this week, we have heard that there are times when we might, perhaps, excuse some white people from using the n-word… I think we can understand that cracker may have been an appropriate term at the time.”
I was raised in a home filled with crackers who spoke Redneck English. This resulted in my being emotionally abused and traumatized by a succession of public school teachers who insisted that I abandon my cultural heritage and learn to communicate in what they called “proper English.”
Believe it or not I was expected to read, write and speak in this unfamiliar dialect. I still have flashbacks when I hear the words “pronunciation”, “enunciation”, “diction” and worst of all, “grammar”.
I was even forced to practice manually writing on paper with an archaic script called “cursive”. It was called “penmanship” and the teachers refused to make special accomodation for my left-handedness so I had to do everything backwards. This was during the dark ages before the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed so I could not sue. If that happened today I would be rich.
Thankfully the children today don’t have to endure this demeaning cultural imperialism.