Please Let Me Testify: An Open Letter to Rachel Jeantel

First, thank you for having the courage to take the stand, for having the courage to testify on behalf of your slain brother, a responsibility too many of us have been shucking for way too long. Most of us choose to plead the fifth, afraid that we’ll be judged just as you have been, and in our silence, the blasts of gunshots resound ever louder right in our own backyards.

I hope that other young people are not gagged by their fear of malicious tweets, but are encouraged by your example, encouraged to speak up and share their sides of the story, whatever that story might be. I pray that more black girls speak up and tell their stories. There are hosts of people, who try to dismiss, disparage, and downright silence voices like yours, but I tell you, little sister, you have been heard.

Second, not only do I hear you, I also see you, and you are beautiful.

I know that the mere color of a person’s skin and a person’s class too often discredit everything they say and do in the eyes of the prejudiced ones. I know that racism is the reason so many blacks and non-blacks have come to consciously and subconsciously devalue dark skin. I know that’s the reason they feel so comfortable maligning you in your moment of grief.

But I’m feeling you. How could you not be annoyed and frustrated in the face of these men, who in many ways embody the source of an entire community’s anger? How could you not be frustrated and bitter about these men who are claiming that your beloved friend deserved to die, and that the person who murdered him was actually the real victim and deserves to live the rest of his life peacefully and free? When I saw the demeanor and heard the tone of the prosecutor, I knew exactly why you rolled your eyes. I’ve often rolled my eyes at people who are trying to “play me,” trying to be condescending and mocking.

Some of us only have respect for those who reflect the image of who we think we are or wish we could be. Some of us believe that only those who speak like us have a right to speak, and we’re deaf to the songs sung by birds of other feathers. Some of us think that only those who look like us have a right to be seen, that only those who live like us have a right to live.

Rachel, I don’t know you, but I’m all too familiar with the way our culture breeds bullies and the way we’re taught and encouraged to tear each other down and rip each other apart. I’m all too familiar with the way society has to make examples out of a few so that the rest of us will be too terrified to simply be ourselves and say what we need to say. Although we’ve all been the bully before, we don’t have to accept the worst in ourselves. We don’t have to accept the worst in our world.

I hope that justice wins. I pray that you, the young vessel that was left to speak on behalf of someone who can no longer speak on behalf of himself, I hope that you find the hope and the healing that you need to go forward from this period in your life and always be beautiful and brave.

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