Creepy-ass cracker in post-racial America: Don West’s examination of Rachel Jeantel in the George Zimmerman murder trial

Tyanna Slobe 1
  • 1 Department of Anthropology, 375 Portola Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
Tyanna Slobe
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  • Tyanna Slobe is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles. As a Linguistic Anthropologist, her research interests include intersections of language and identity, socioeconomic mobility, gender, embodiment, and media. She conducts fieldwork in Santiago, Chile.
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This article examines interactions between defense attorney Don West and witness Rachel Jeantel in the 2013 State of Florida v. George Zimmerman trial following the murder of Trayvon Martin. The focus of analysis is how the defense constitutes the term creepy-ass cracker as evidence of violence and aggression on behalf of Trayvon Martin. Their argument is located within an ideological framework of a post-racial American society wherein the defense claims colorblindness () for their client George Zimmerman. Trayvon Martin’s observation of Zimmerman’s whiteness, as indexed by the word cracker, is positioned as evidence of a culture and an individual with inherently violent, racially motivated intentions. The article examines interactional moments during the defense’s questioning of Rachel Jeantel wherein creepy-ass cracker is positioned as immoral within a post-racial ideological framework, and evidence of racism toward white people. Don West’s use of pauses, hyper-articulated Standard American English, and emblematic deictic terms discursively and linguistically segregate Martin’s and Jeantel’s community from the hegemonic white practices of the courtroom. West’s attempts to assert symbolic control over the semantic meaning of creepy-ass cracker reflect the relative unmarkedness of Standard American English and whiteness in contemporary United States judicial systems and society.

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Text & Talk (founded as TEXT in 1981) is an internationally recognized forum for interdisciplinary research in language, discourse, and communication studies, focusing, among other things, on the situational and historical nature of text/talk production; the cognitive and sociocultural processes of language practice/action; and participant-based structures of meaning negotiation and multimodal alignment.