Why are You Posting Viral Videos of Black Pain?
Headline after headline, it’s the same story: another Black American shot &/or killed by law enforcement.
George Floyd, after a police officer knelt on his neck as the other officers watched. Ahmaud Arbery, while on a jog. Breonna Taylor, while police raided her home, with no probable cause. Philando Castile, in the car with his girlfriend, and her 4-year-old daughter. Trayvon Martin, only a young boy. And the countless ones before.
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old child, was murdered 65 years ago today. He was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman; then kidnapped, disfigured, and brutally murdered by an angry mob white supremacists.
Do you remember the first time you saw the image of Emmett Till in his open casket? I do, many of us do. I was 14. I remember what I was wearing, the smell in the room, and how the energy shifted after I saw the photograph of his mutilated remains.
Most of us learned that it is the horror of that image that changed the minds of segregationists. But that is not what happened. What happened is that image evoked a powerful desire for justice in Black people; and it documented violence in a very different way. Mamie Till Mobley was undone by the murder of her son (whom she birthed and loved fiercely) and shared these images because it was her right. To see this image of a child’s body tortured in the service of white supremacy caused a shift within the community and is still haunting to this day.
Images of violence against Black people have been distributed long before Till’s open casket image was front page news in 1955. Since the advent of photography in 1839, the abuse of Black people and people of color has been documented and disseminated. Lynching postcards date back to the 1880s. Your sharing of images of Black people being tormented and murdered is part of a centuries old tradition of display of Black pain. If the images of Black pain were enough, wouldn’t radicalized violence, extrajudicial murder and lynching have stopped by now? Why is lynching still not considered a federal hate crime?
Why do we still have to rely on the viral exposure of Black pain for people to care?
Emmett Till is a reminder of all that has not changed, and how little progress we have made. The “problem” isn’t getting worse, it has been this way for the past 400 years, but now we are capturing more of it on video. The cost of these injustices ripple, and there is a profound emotional toll.
Have you stopped to think how these horrific viral videos are affecting the Black community? How our Black family members, friends, colleagues, and community members are being triggered? This racial trauma combined with the lived experiences of racism, can cause symptoms like anxiety, depression, phobias, and psychological problems reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder (e.g., Carter, 2007).
It is just another insidious way that systemic racism in the United States is making people sick.
Some may argue that the explosive footage that accompanies many of these violent deaths are vital to raising public consciousness, no matter how disturbing. While it is true that these images powerfully shape our discourse, there are plenty of places on the internet where footage can be found. If you do feel compelled to circulate this footage to bring awareness, please be mindful and give ‘trigger warnings’ beforehand.
This is your friendly reminder to be intentional with the content you post and repost.
Think carefully of how you engage with visual imagery, how you circulate it, and what it upholds. Refrain from contributing to race-based stress and trauma. Perhaps choose to do the anti-racist work instead. Or engage in pushing forth solutions to dismantling systemic racism, and creating safe inclusive spaces instead?
Minni, Holistic Antiracism Activist
Carter, R. T. (2007). Racism and psychological and emotional injury: Recognizing and assessing race-based traumatic stress. The Counseling Psychologist, 35(1), 13–105.