I care. Didn’t you see my repost? The message being sent by most non-Black people attempting to act as allies during the wake of George Floyd’s death, as the international campaign for the Black Lives Matter movement is reignited — unlike ever before. Crowds across all fifty states, along with over a dozen foreign countries, have been outside calling for an end to police brutality in the midst of a pandemic. George Floyd’s last words rang a bell for those familiar with the Eric Garner case of 2014: “I can’t breathe.”
These tragic and unwarranted murders have highlighted the continuity in not only the failures of our archaic judicial system, but of the “need” for sensationalism in the media to spark support for a cause. We must — especially as non-Black allies — consider the harm we tend to blindly cause by reposting such graphic videos and participating in passive activism. Instead, we must opt to reform the media and abolish the police systems in place that have driven this centuries-long crisis.
Sensationalism in the News:
Though sensationalism has been visually present and growing rampant since the twentieth century – with its victims spanning across all races — the increasing awareness against anti-black rhetoric has shined a light on the shortcomings of even these [the often retweeted gory videos] desperate cries for help. The development of smartphones has led to a boom in videos depicting racism in all of its forms — captured by petrified witnesses and victims. Video after video is posted on our timelines, begging for reposts to bring justice to those affected. But in an attempt to honor the lives lost, we have inadvertently been desensitizing those who most benefit from our current systems with its racist policies.
Where in the past, it was solely newspapers that exploited these gory images, social media has opened the floodgates for a whole new group to act as reporters — but with no prior training, and oftentimes performative intentions. This change has, to some degree, been effective in raising public awareness on social and racial issues not covered in mainstream media. However, I ask that you reconsider before you repost such images.
A Community in Pain:
I care. Didn’t you see my repost? is not the message coming through. We may have good intentions, but a repost serves as a painful reminder. It is a constant reminder to the grieving family whose kin’s last breaths were captured on camera — until they laid lifeless on the ground. Now, these horrific moments cover their timelines, top to bottom — serving as a reminder of the nightmare that they are enduring.
It is a recurring realization for all of the Black friends and family we share our timelines with – that they are not safe either. That person on the ground begging for their life could be them one day. Consider that most of us have done the sorts of normal day to day things and at times made the minimal mistakes that victims of police brutality have lost their lives over. Now, recognize that Black peoples’ skin color distinguishes whether these acts cost them their lives.
This isn’t a hypothetical. It is a cry coming from the exhausted mouths of the Black people around us. Respect their sanity. It is not someone who looks like you being shot to death on screen. It is not someone like you being choked to death. It will never be the reality you are prepared for at the age of 9, as you sit in front of your parents, being taught how to avoid angering cops.
A Racist System
If I have made you uncomfortable, sit with that feeling. This lesson is not one that should have to be taught, but one of many that must exist if we will continue living complicitly within a racist society. Sensationalism of Black pain is nothing more than a reflection of the failures of our institutions. The pain and struggles of Black citizens are not valued until there is graphic proof of their lives being stripped from them.
Consider Breonna Taylor. We are — to this day — waiting for the mere arrest of the officers involved in her murder. Recognize how sensationalism serves as a dichotomous tool; it may bring attention to issues, but it simultaneously diminishes the credibility of all others that do not fit the new criteria: film to accompany claims. Unfortunately, that is not where the issue ends. We are further expanding the platform for Black people and Black pain to be associated with criminal and police activity.
As many of us know, or have come to know recently, the police system that is in place today was created as a way to control slaves. Especially after the abolition of slavery, it was a way to keep newly freed Black people in “check” and be able to lock them up easily to receive free labor from them once again. Reformation of our current police institution may provide some relief, but it will not fully mitigate the systemic issue at play. It is because of this that most activists have been protesting for a complete defunding of the police.
Opt to go beyond not retweeting these videos as a way of denouncing sensationalism of Black pain. Consider the literature and reality involved with the reformation and abolition of the systems we currently have, if you have not yet. The most powerful argument for the defunding of the police I have heard thus far puts it simply. Many of us, non-Black citizens, live in neighborhoods with defunded police departments; they are what we consider suburbs. Resources are more abundant, and police are less present, leaving crime rates to go down. If we defunded police departments in predominantly minority neighborhoods and flooded them with long-overdue access to resources, we would see them thriving as well.
Dismantling the sensationalism that accompanies Black pain involves the promotion of Black joy. The former will not cease to exist without relentless support for the latter. Help to promote the artists who wish to focus their work on the innocence and simplicity of Black children, Black life and Black happiness.
Do your part to ensure that Black joy exists. Lift the voices of Black activists up. Sign some petitions. Donate to organizations on the ground. Educate yourself with anti-racist readings. Have those difficult conversations with friends and family, patiently relaying what knowledge you already possess. It is in those conversations that most progress can be made. We have the privilege to speak and be trusted by those less informed around us.
The Black people in our lives face constant battles to be viewed as deserving of the same freedoms and leeway all of us who are of lighter complexions tend to naturally have. They have been disadvantaged for 400 years – but it is not too late. We can shift this racist narrative; promoting Black joy and success provides a way to highlight all of our similarities. End the showcasing of the Black folks around us as constantly bitter, or the villains, in both mainstream media and reality. By ceasing to conceptualize the Black people in our lives as ‘exceptions,’ we help to erase the stereotyping that puts them in harm’s way.
Melissa Leon Pons ’23 is from Port Charlotte, Florida.
This article was published on June 19th on Students 4 Social Change. (https://students4sc.org/2020/06/19/a-call-for-black-joy-and-an-end-to-sensationalism/)