Professor Rachel Jeantel Provides a Lesson on Proper Use of the “N” Word

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week, you’ve probably seen or heard about Rachel Jeantel.  Ms Jeantel was a friend of Trayvon Martin’s. She was speaking to him on the phone at the time of Martin’s and Zimmerman’s altercation. And she was a witness for the…well, you decide the last part as I’m still a little unsure quite frankly.

Last night Piers Morgan did an interview with her. You may have missed it. But that’s why there’s places like Mediaite. The story is only four paragraphs long  and the video clip 1:29, but provides so much insight into the language we are now free to use about the country.  Words can be subtle and so you have to chose them carefully so you don’t make a language faux pas.

Morgan asks Jeantel if there’s anything, anything at all,  she wishes she could have said while on the witness stand.  She quickly came up with one word…”N**ga”.  You and I might have stopped to consider all that was asked during direct and cross examination. Maybe the attorney’s didn’t ask an important question or maybe if a question had been phrased a different way I might have answered differently, but not Ms. Jeantel.

Just the one word. On the clip she explains how the world views the word as racist but says “my view around 2000, they change it around I think”".  I’m not sure who “they” is  but the “it” is either language in general, or the perception of the word. Or something.  I’m not sure who “they” is  but the “it” is either language in general, or the perception of the word. Or something.

From the article we’re told  “Jeantel explained to Morgan that “the whole world say it’s a racist word” but the version of the word that she testified Martin had used in reference to Zimmerman, spelled “n-**-g-a” doesn’t mean what most people think it means. It doesn’t mean a “black male” as Morgan assumed, she said, but rather any kind of man, including “Chinese” for example.”

Chinese??!! Really?  With just the letter “a” we are talking about any male?  She’s adamant.  Any male.  And to ensure Morgan has the subtlety down properly she gives him a helpful tip on the use of the word spelled with “er” on the end instead of with the “a”.  Don’t do it.


“I’d advise you not to be by any black people cause they not gonna have any of that. Cause that’s a  racist word.”


Morgan wants to make sure he has the language lesson down for the day, and suggests the two words then have separate meanings in her community.  Not in a community, but rather “a generation”, she explains. So, Morgan seeks to clarify by suggesting young people then are the ones who differentiate the use of the two words.  But Ms. Jeantel informs us, old people use it too.

To recap. Two words, two different meanings.  But, the two words are similar and one could easily be construed as the other if the emphasis isn’t heavy on that last letter.   I hope this primer helped anyone wanting to communicate effectively with young and old alike.

* Class note: Maybe tomorrow we can have a special guest speaker  go into detail about the words ”B*tch” and “Ho” which are almost used as terms of endearment today and widely accepted.  Why, I have no idea since those words were a couple of the worst things you could call a female and would get you slapped, kneed or arrested in some states because they were so disparaging.







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