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When it comes to our use of the English language, it seems that black people just can’t win, no matter what end of the mastery spectrum we fall on.

This past week Rachel Jeantel, the last person to talk to murdered teenager Trayvon Martin, took the stand in the trial of George Zimmerman, a watchman who is accused of stalking and killing the unarmed 17-year-old in 2012 as he was walking from a convenience store in Sanford, Fla.

Martin’s slaying and the circumstances that surrounded it – the fact that the black youth’s body lay in the morgue for three days before his family learned of his death and the fact that it took months for Zimmerman, who is white, to be charged – rubbed salt on the unhealed wounds of injustice and racism that still scar this nation’s soul.

But suddenly, it wasn’t Zimmerman who was on trial for second-degree murder and a tragedy that occurred mainly because he didn’t follow a dispatcher’s instructions to not follow Trayvon that fateful night.

Suddenly, it was Jeantel who was on trial because she didn’t talk like a Rhodes scholar.

When the 19-year-old began testifying, Twitter was atwitter with disparaging comments about Jeantel’s monotone responses, her use of Ebonics, i.e., “he had said, he had did,” and what critics saw as her lack of education.

The substance of what Jeantel was trying to convey – that substance being the last words that her friend spoke while he was being followed by a wannabe cop – was all but lost.

Then again, I don’t know if speaking like a Rhodes scholar would have helped Jeantel that much – as least not in the eyes of critics who are looking to marginalize her anyway.

All it takes is a look at how many of those same, mostly racist, critics disparage the Harvard scholar who occupies the Oval Office when he speaks.

Obviously, President Obama and Jeantel are worlds apart when it comes to articulating the language. But they occupy the same, schizophrenic universe when it comes to white people using the way they speak to judge either their motives or their intellect.

And they can’t seem to win with these folks.

Blacks and the English Language: Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don’t  was originally published on

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