Rachel Jeantel, who popularized the phrase “creepy ass cracker” in uncomfortable testimony that added a new racial dimension to the George Zimmerman trial, gave a lesson about Miami urban culture on CNN Monday night when she said that the word “nigga” isn’t a racist term.
Jeantel, 19, also discussed her feelings, marijuana use in her urban Miami community and the reaction to her testimony about talking by phone with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin just before Zimmerman shot and killed him in Sanford.
Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday and one juror had said earlier on the network that Jeantel’s slang-filled testimony — crucial for the prosecution — was both not credible and hard to understand.
Asked by CNN host Piers Morgan: “Is there’s anything you wished you said” on the witness stand?
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“Nigga,” Jeantel responded.
“The whole world say it’s a racist word,” she said, adding that she believed people changed it around [and] It start spelling N-I-G-G-A…”
What’s that mean to you? Morgan asked her.
“That mean a male,” Jeantel responded, “any kind of male. Any kind. Chinese can say nigga. That’s my Chino, nigga. They can say that.”
There are limits, she said.
“But nigger,” she added, stressing the pronunciation of the last two letters, “I’ll advise you not to use that…because that’s a racist word.”
The “er” also played a role in another racially loaded word, “cracker,” which is often used to refer to whites.
Asked Morgan, in his proper British accent: “How do you spell it first of all.. there’s no ‘er,’ right?”
Jeantel: "No. It’s an ‘a’ at the end."
The origins of cracker are unclear. Some say it’s a reference to the crack whips used by slavers. Others say it refers to the Florida cowboys who used whips instead of lassos to drive cattle. And others say that, especially when it comes to "Florida crackers," it’s a reference to the diet of poor whites from long ago.
Still, some blacks do use the phrase pejoratively to describe whites.
During her witness testimony in the case, Jeantel said Trayvon, a close friend from Miami Gardens, told her on the phone that Zimmerman was a “creepy ass cracka” because he was following the teen in the Sanford gated community where he was killed. Trayvon was visiting his father after the teen was suspended from school.
Whites and conservatives were outraged with the phrase, saying it indicated Trayvon was a racist, not Zimmerman.
But an anonymous juror who broke her silence on Monday night said “I don’t think it’s really racial. I think it’s everyday life — the type of life that they live and how they’re living and the environment that they’re living in.”
The juror, a white middle aged woman who expressed great sympathy for Zimmerman, said she had trouble understanding Jeantel, who said she had a speech impediment. Jeantel, of Haitian and Dominican descent, also grew up in a multi-lingual city with slang many whites from Central Florida suburbs just don’t hear.
“A lot of time she was using phrases I had never heard before, and what they meant,” said the juror, identified only as B37, who added that she pitied Jeantel who “felt inadequate toward everyone because of her education and her communication skills. I just felt sadness for her.”
While Jeantel said she was upset by the juror’s comments, she agreed that the “cracka” term wasn’t offensive. She said it referred to a person who’s like a police officer or a security guard. And she added that Trayvon might have feared that Zimmerman was a rapist.’Jeantel took issue with the defense’s attempt to paint Trayvon as violent, in part because he used marijuana.
“You say ‘marijuana,’ but in my area, we say ‘weed,’” she said. For Trayvon — I can explain one thing. Weed don’t make him go crazy. It just make him go
hungry… it make him go hungry.”
Morgan: Did he take a lot of weed?
“No,” she said, saying he smoked about twice weekly, which was “real normal” for many teens. She said she doesn’t smoke.
In an earlier interview on CBS4 in Miami, Jeantel brushed off the criticisms about her testimony, demeanor and diction.
“I am a Miami girl,” she said. “You going to have your haters. You’re going to have your opinions. They’re going to have their opinions. All that. That’s ok. You not going to hurt me because I’m still going to live my life. But Trayvon’s situation, I learned something from that: Life your life to the fullest. ‘Cause you never know what’s going to happen.”