Lessons From Rachel Jeantel: Communication Skills Still Matter

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Like many Americans, my first notice of Rachel Jeantel was through clips being passed around on Facebook. After listening to the 19-year old high school senior (who, according to the prosecution, speaks three languages), I could only feel sorry for her.

America has always prided itself on being an upwardly mobile society where you can be anyone you want to be. However, if there’s one barrier to success in our nation, it’s how well you speak English. Unless you’re a rap star, you won’t be able to talk (or write) like a thug and be taken seriously.

This brings us to not just Rachel Jeantel, but a whole group of Americans under a certain age that are caught in a net of their — and their parents’ — making. Watching Ms. Jeantel, I had to wonder: who will ever hire her? Even without the notoriety that the trial will bring her, would you hire someone who speaks like this to represent your company? Would you hire someone who admittedly cannot read cursive?

And so the taxpayer ends up footing the bill, either by out-and-out welfare, or by funding SNAP and childcare because the job that she can find won’t pay enough to support herself and her family.

This is not isolated to one race or one location of the country. I’m not picking on Ms. Jeantel because she is black; indeed, I would feel just as sorry for her if she was white or brown because obviously no one in her life has taken the time to say, “Sit up straight. Make eye contact, but don’t roll your eyes. Answer with a clear voice and try to smile, and, please, for the love of God, don’t embarrass your parents or your English teachers. You can be more than this; you can better yourself.” But this has become near pandemic within whole swathes of our country.

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