Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Rachel, Trayvon, And The Saddest Thing I’ve Ever Read


Despite the cultural relevance and ubiquity of the Trayvon Martin case, I haven’t written about it since the trial started. No blogs, no articles, and not even any tweets or status messages.

This silence has been intentional. I have a sizable emotional stake in the outcome, and keeping up with and writing about the daily ebs and flows of a court case that may not end for weeks—and, most importantly, may not end how I want it to end—would burn me out. I’ve read many of the news stories and opinion pieces spawned by it, but writing—and the thinking/re-writing process that usually accompanies it—is just more of an investment for me.

I decided to break my silence tonight after a friend forwarded a story about the case to me that, all things considered, may very well be the saddest thing I’ve ever read.

From “Trayvon Martin Was One of the Few Guys Who Didn’t Tease Rachel Jeantel”

Rod Vereen (Rachel Jeantel’s lawyer): “This was traumatic for her.  I was listening to the radio yesterday and there was some, you know, they had a town hall meeting somewhere here in Miami.  And one of the, I think they had psychiatrist, psychologist saying, oh, yeah, it is clearly obvious that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.  I differ with that.  I beg to differ.  What she went through was traumatic, yes.  You know, but she is dealing with it as best she can.  She lost a good friend.” 

“But Trayvon was one of the few guys, okay, and this is what, I mean, this ripped, tore my heart apart.  She said he was one of the few guys that never made fun of me, about the way I dressed, about the way I talked, about my hair, about my complexion, you know, about my weight.  And she said, so we communicated, because Rachel was, she was pretty much an introvert and so for her to be a 19-year-old young lady…”

Tom Joyner: “And she liked Trayvon because he didn’t tease her.”

Sybil Wilkes: “He was nice to her.”

Joyner: “He was nice to her.”

Vereen: “Very nice to her.  Trayvon was a handsome little boy, all right?  He was a cute kid.  You know, and so here’s a young lady who’s infatuated the fact that somebody like Trayvon Martin befriended her and then she was just struck at the fact that their friendship was the way it was and they texted each other all the time.  They called each other all the time, you know?  And this is the way she communicated with them, you know. “

I was sitting in my living room when I first read this. My girl was in the kitchen. I told her about the interview. Since she was busy and couldn’t read it herself, she asked me to summarize it for her. I did. When I got to the part about Trayvon being one of the only people Rachel knew who didn’t tease her, my voice cracked a little and my eyes started burning. I stopped reading, thinking I had to sneeze. It didn’t even dawn on me that I was actually crying until a half-second later.

The overriding theme with the dozens of articles about Rachel Jeantel’s court appearance last week was that we cant lose sight of the fact that George Zimmerman is the only one on trial here. While I understand the sentiment, I disagree. Zimmerman isn’t up there by himself. They just got the co-defendant wrong. It’s not Rachel Jeantel or even Trayvon Martin, though. It’s Black America. It’s us.

From day one, this case has exposed all of our intra-racial warts about race, complexion, class, and how each of them intersect. For all of our marching, hoodie-rocking, and “I am Trayvon”-ing, there’s no doubt in my mind that if Trayvon Martin looked more like Chief Keef and didn’t have camera-ready parents, we wouldn’t still be talking about him. We may have not have even talked about him at all.

This was evident when we first encountered Rachel Jeantel. Regardless of how vehemently we circled the wagons after realizing she was being attacked, our first collective reflex when seeing and hearing her was that we wished we didn’t have to see or hear her anymore. She was too big, too “dumb,” and too Black to been seen in public, to have the privilege of speaking in front of White folks, to matter, and we wanted her to go back to wherever people who don’t matter go when they’re busy not mattering.

Apparently, Trayvon didn’t agree.

You know, in the hours since I first read this interview, I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly what triggered those tears. I haven’t figured it out yet. I’d like to think they were about Trayvon and the circumstances surrounding his death. But, the more I think about it, the more I think I’m just embarrassed that while we were sitting here, wondering, writing, and tweeting about whether Rachel Jeantel should matter, she was up there by herself, devastated over losing one of the only people who knew that she does.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”) 

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Shemeka Hankins

    Wow. Eloquently said. I’ve posted similar commentary for people to see.

  • Brian Gallagher

    The culture of low expectations……

    • To’Mas Que Fuego

      Can you elaborate BG?

      • 321mena123

        You don’t need for him to. He is a troll so don’t respond.

  • GemmieBoo

    But, the more I think about it, the more I think I’m just embarrassed that while we were sitting here, wondering, writing, and tweeting about whether Rachel Jeantel should matter, she was up there by herself, devastated over losing one of the only people who knew that she does.

    wow. this last statements sums it all up (and made me tear up). awesome post, Champ. thank you for sharing.

    • Sunrise Jackson

      word. made me teary eyed again, too.

    • Alisa Hyman

      Wow. Such a poignant statement…

    • Asiyah

      same here.

    • b sweet


    • Yalonda McQuinn

      Very sincere last statement indeed. It’s heartbreaking how we treat each other.

    • qwaters03

      ditto. that last sentence got me

    • Cherae Tesfai Prestegard

      last statement brought tears on for me as well…

    • Melanie Malone

      DITTO! It breaks my heart to have to admit that I have been guilty of dismissing people at times for the same reasons. As a White woman, I applaud him for the honesty in this article. Not because he is holding up a mirror to

      Black people, but because when I read his thoughts I had to hold a mirror up to myself and be honest about how I view people. Black people are not the only ones who treat “their own” badly when someone doesn’t measure up to the unspoken societal standards. But Champ has done a very brave thing in confronting the people closest to him to start the change at home, in their own hearts. I accept the challenge and will start the change from my heart toward people I might dismiss without realizing it.

  • Nichole Targaryen

    Beautifully stated.

  • Brian Gallagher

    What is it like to live in a fantasy world???

    • The Champ

      I’ll bite. What are you talking about?

      • iamnotakata

        Considering his past history of comments….I’m going to assume he is not a fan of brown people, and say he is probably trolling.

        • Jay

          Bam. The power of Disqus.

        • 321mena123

          He needs to be blocked. We don’t have time for ignorance on something like this.

        • Andrea

          Thank you. I now finally looked up trolling and understand what that means.

  • Liz

    This is the best thing i have read about Rachel. Thanks for saying what I think needed to be said.

    P.S. this almost makes up for P and his body shaming last week. almost. #butnotreally

    • Liz we have quite a few trolls who apparently snuck thru the disqus backdoor after previously being blocked…can we unleash the hounds?

      • Liz

        We don’t typically just ban people for general trollage, sorry. I think we have only banned 2-4 people in the history of VSBs five years. 2 of them I already re-blocked. These other people are new.

        • Dang lol….cuz these new trolls chile…..

          • Liz

            oh wait i see its an old troll coming back. *ramping up*

            • **films Liz fighting the trolls for World Star Hip Hop**

    • panamajackson


  • Jay

    Zimmerman isn’t up there by himself. They just got the co-defendant wrong. It’s not Rachel Jeantel or even Trayvon Martin, though. It’s Black America. It’s us.

    Pro. Found.

    • DiamondsOn_MyBack

      Definitely the best lines of the piece. It is sad to think that
      someone who can be so brave as to testify, would have to face so much
      ridicule from her own. I applaud Rachel, and when you really listen to
      her testimony, you find that she is consistent and solid in what she is
      saying. Even when the defense tries to make her mess up. I loved when he
      showed her the call records and she goes, “there should be more.”

      • I’m appalled by the racism in these comments.

        “Black America?” …what if other groups identified as “Chinese America” or “White America?” Would that be OK with you?

        “..ridicule from her own.”

        Her own? So in your mind, it’s black people vs. the rest?

        So much for MLK Jr’s dream that we would be judged by the content of our character, rather than the color of our skin.


        • jason

          You clearly don’t get it and clearly missed the point of this whole thing. Why don’t you look up what racism means – webster is a good source. And groups do identify themselves as Chinese America, Latin America, etc. where have you been hiding.

          • Feel free to explain “the point of this whole thing,” but I wasn’t addressing that.

            I was addressing the “us vs them (based on the color of our skin)” attitude.

            How can you ask other people to stop being racist, if you identify YOURSELF based on the color of your skin?

            • jason

              I’m not going to engage you it makes my brain hurt. farewell

            • ER8008

              Some people take Dr. King’s plea to judge people by the content of their character as a right perspective, and some don’t. But, sadly, Dr. King’s “child-like reasoning, and blissful oblivion” isn’t in vogue.

              • Maharaja Misty

                Buahahahaha. Oh gosh this was a pitiful attempt by you and your clueless Caucasian counterpart to equate that MLK quip with your passive aggressive campaign heralding assimilation as a means to end racism. Riddle me this genius, when if ever did MLK stop identifying himself as a black man? The call to not be judged soley by the color of your skin ,is not equated with a call to suppress self-identification, MLK never advocated for all ethnicities to be recognized solely under the ‘human race’ blanket, please stop using ‘I don’t see color’ cliches to warp his words to your own ideals.

                • Shira Ingram

                  excellent again!

            • kstephens8

              We have ALWAYS been identified BY THE COLOR OF OUR SKIN in this country. Good God, who are you?! Where have you been? Do you know ANY American History or is your life just a ‘Pie In the Sky’ daydream? Nigger, Negro, Black, are how African-Americans have been identified since we were brought to these shores and WE DID NOT DESIGNATE those modes of identification. Please stop sharing your ignorance.

            • Diana Baskin

              Identifying yourself by skin color isn’t racist. It is who we are.

            • Sonya Renee Taylor

              Atlas are you genuinely interested in understanding a perspective outside your own or are you invested in arguing. If you are interested in actually understanding the perspectives shared here i will gladly dialogue with you but only if you have a true desire to engage.

            • andres herrera

              Isn’t skin color part of the way one person identifies another? Just like height, weight, hair color, etc.

            • JinaBean

              Colorism and racism are two separate entities. Colorism is hatred based on skin color (light, dark, pale, tan, etc.) Racism is hatred against a certain race of people (whose skin color is usually varied). For example, most of the things said about Ms. Jeantel were issues of colorism (she’s so dark, how could she be seen at night was put on her FB wall). Racism is when Trayvon was targeted and attacked for being Black. Truthfully, I feel that if that had been a White or Latino kid wearing a hoodie, there would be no trial right now because Zimmerman would have never confronted the kid. My dollar coin thought!

            • Anna Snyder

              What you don’t get is that acknowledging there are differences in appearances isn’t racist; attributing behaviors or abilities to those differences is what’s racist. “He is black” is just a statement pertaining to the appearance of skin color. “He is black and therefore is probably a criminal, especially since he also is wearing a hoodie” is racist.

              • I agree.

                I’m just saying it’s also wildly racist to blame “whites” collectively for anything… especially racism.

                • Raya

                  But no one here has actually done that, so it’s not clear why you brought it up.

            • Nailah Adama

              Why do I have to deny an entire aspect of myself, one that does indeed have a profound impact on who I have become, one that I feel is a blessing, in order to be respected. Our differences make us just that-different. It is until “they” make my differences a deficit in their social order that “our” self preservation instinct kicks in-and rightly so. Do I have to deny being a woman in order to expect men to respect me? Maybe respect is too much to ask? Do I have to deny being a woman in order to call a misogynist out? If I am homosexual, should I have to deny my sexual orientation in order to expect people not to harass me? Friedman, your logic is flawed. I am not going to assume it comes from a bad place, but it definitely comes from a place of ignorance…and not the benign kind. Please inform yourself.

          • Maharaja Misty

            Don’t even engage. If someone see’s ‘self-identification’ as an impetus to racism, they are sorely lacking the components to comprehend anything having to do with race nor do they wish to ever understand. Just marvel at their child-like reasoning, and blissful oblivion. Write em off as trolls and keep it pushin.

            • “I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I don’t think I’m misreading that.

              A man is on trial. I couldn’t care less who is black, white, white-Hispanic, green, or whatever. I want justice and the truth.

              Why do we have to make this a big deal? Can it ever NOT be a big deal, if the first thing people see about THEMSELVES is the color of their skin?

              • h.h.h.

                “Why do we have to make this a big deal? ”

                because it’s a very good chance the reason why Trayvon is dead, is due to the color of their skin.

                • good chance? Or an assumption you made based on the color of their skin?

                  • h.h.h.

                    hmm…i’m gonna stay with ‘good chance’.

                    of course, you’re welcome to believe otherwise, that if this was any other american, the situation would have played out exactly the same way. best of luck with that.

                  • kstephens8

                    Just like the same assumption George Zimmerman made about Trayvon on the night he killed him?

              • kstephens8


              • jz

                You are misreading King. The dream for racial identity to cease to be a factor for judging an individual’s value does not necessitate the disappearance of difference or race. Holding up “colorblindness” as a principle is a ploy to neglect the persistent effects of racism. Dropping racism from the census, employment law, or college admissions won’t change the facts of disproportionate rates of stop-n-frisk, poverty, incarceration, and premature mortality for African Americans. To equate mention of race to racism is inane. King knew that; read more than the one line that can be squeezed into RNC campaign literature. When Ben Jealous called out the Tea Party in 2010 for racist depictions of President Obama at all of its rallies, reactionary TV & radio pundits called him the racist. That was perverse and stupid. It’s also perverse and stupid to pretend that Zimmerman did not target Martin on the basis of race. Just who was the “they” who always “get away,” as he said to the dispatcher before initiating his hot, lethal pursuit? Let me help: it was young black men.

              • Rose Awiti

                “couldn’t care less who is black, white, white-Hispanic, green, or whatever. I want justice and the truth?How come white people fund-raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Zimmerman? I have never heard of blacks raising money for another simply because he has shot white person. To pretend there is no racism in this case is to condone it..

            • jason

              Well put

            • Shira Ingram

              excellent! there are people who dont wish to understand and Maharaja is right, dont waste time with them. When you’ve had people tell you they dont see you as any certain color thats just as ignorant as someone discriminating against you because of your color. I dont wish to be invisible in the American fabric so I get to identify myself however I like. The fact that I see this person really push this issue below is laughable… REALLY laughable.

          • Valley Reed

            Ever filled out a census report?
            How racist is that?
            Yes we separate people by race in this country, and we treat them differently. Beyond that what is going on with the treatment of Rachel Jeantel exemplifies the complete inability to meet other people where they come from in terms of cultural experience. In the good ol U.S.A. we expect everyone to be like us because of imperialist white privilege, and when they don’t, we tear them apart or worse, we kill them. Not just in this case but also in our foreign policy.

        • pan

          excuse you, but when society stops discriminating against people of color because of our skin, then we can stop talking about it. pretending to be “colorblind” doesn’t make the problem go away. systemic racism is a real problem in this country and globally. i’m amazed people like you even bother commenting on stuff like this when you clearly don’t understand what you’re even talking about. clearly you haven’t done the research on job and housing discrimination, on how educational resources are channeled away from poor kids of color, on how the media and popular culture portray people of color negatively or erase us altogether (while simultaneously appropriating our cultures), on how the police and the war on drugs and the entire system of justice targets people of color. when those things stop happening, we can be one america. until then, no, we aren’t equal. we aren’t all the same. as long as you go on ignoring and denying that, you ignore and deny the experiences of millions of people. we didn’t create racism. white people did. we’re the ones who have had to deal with the repercussions. the moment a white person has to deal with it, y’all start playing the victim and that shit is not cute. as someone else said: get a clue.

          and don’t you dare even mention martin luther king again. martin luther king said, “it would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the NEGRO. this sweltering summer of the NEGRO’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. NINETEEN-SIXTY-THREE IS NOT AN END, BUT A BEGINNING. those who hope that the NEGRO needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. there will be neither rest nor tranquility in america until the NEGRO is granted his citizenship rights. the whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges” (emphasis mine). do you think the day that mlk dreamed of arrived the moment he said those words, that the NEGRO suddenly became a citizen with full and equal rights?! NO, so what in the world are you eeeeeeven going on about? get his name out of your mouth if you’re going to keep willfully misinterpreting his words!

          and let me know when those green people show up, because i’ve never seen one. we’re talking about REAL people who face REAL racism here.

        • princesspr

          Nothing annoys me more than people such as yourself who CANNOT or will not own that racism is alive and active.

          Remember because you may not encounter such acts; does not mean it doesn’t happen! or exist.

        • JinaBean

          A.) Other groups DO classify themselves. There’s even a song called White America. Hello, where have you been?! Yes, it is okay to do so because how else can people teach sociology?
          B.) Her own, meaning that we, as Black people, should have had her back. It was done during the Civil Rights Movement and the BPP era. It’s not a matter of “us vs. them” but why many Black people attacked her in the first place. Most of that was definitely self-hatred!
          C.) I think you missed the ship when it comes to this article. You quote MLK wonderfully, but until the issues of racism in this country are resolved, his will be a dream deferred (or have you not heard of that statement?). MLK even stated that it will take multiple generations for his dream to be fulfilled. We’re just in the third generation now.

        • Jim Nixon

          Well said. Bravo.

    • Asiyah

      profound, indeed.

  • McNairian

    I don’t think that I could read that article. It’s shameful that the young lady was the object of so much derision. She lost her friend and somehow that has been lost in all of the hype and spectacle of the case.

  • iamnotakata

    Wow that is really sad. I actually didn’t see the trial when Rachel was being cross examined, but black twitter was a fool all through her appearance in court, and it was a lot said in regards to her speech and behavior. I wonder what would have been folks reaction had they known more about her and her relationship with Trayvon…

  • cilgen

    Champ, this was one of the best pieces you have ever written, and I thank you. I also read the story you referenced earlier today, and it made it stop in my tracks. I was in my office and had to close the door because I truly could not stop weeping.

    As Gem said, you summed it up quite eloquently here:

    “But, the more I think about it, the more I think I’m just
    embarrassed that while we were sitting here, wondering, writing, and tweeting
    about whether Rachel Jeantel should matter, she was up there by herself,
    devastated over losing one of the only people who knew that she does.”

    I wish Rachel could know how many more people believe she matters.

    She matters a great deal.

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