By Danielle Stevens | Co-Founder of This Bridge Called Our Health
We must be more mindful about the videos and images that we post.
In the age of digital and new media, the spread of urgent information and breaking news is expeditious and far reaching. Although the surge of social media as a tool for spreading information has proved successful in organizing and mobilizing our communities, it has also meant that Black people have been intimately exposed to ceaseless images and videos of our bodies being brutalized, murdered and relegated to objects hunted by a system of white supremacy. Often when we log onto our Facebook pages or our Twitter accounts, we discover a trending hashtag that either accompanies the auto-play of a horrific killing of a Black person, a live account of a Black person being brutalized by a police officer, or an image of a lifeless Black body lying in the street. Many of us have seen them, and many of us have shared them. The caption of these images and videos are usually something like:
This video fundamentally demonstrates the complete lack of regard and humanity of Black bodies. We must bring attention to this matter. Please share far and wide. Rest in Power. #FTP #BlackLivesMatter
While the scope and gravity of state-sanctioned violence, brutality, and criminalization of Black people across the U.S. — a nation founded and buttressed by the brutal and fatal realities of enslavement, colonialism, conquest, and genocide against Black people — is unfathomable at this point and should absolutely be discussed, what is missing from the conversation is the intimate and irreversible harm done to our psyches when Black people bear witness to ourselves being killed.
It desensitizes us. It haunts us. It makes it difficult to focus on anything else. We move into a state of shock, anguish, terror and exhaustion and become both rendered immobile by and also numb to our trauma. It is important to remember while sharing these videos, that the onus of these harmful instances are not on those of us who are processing the harm to which we are subject; it is instead upon the state to do more than just say “we will investigate” and then remain complacent for years while mothers and families grieve the loss of loved ones.
The mother of the late Laquan McDonald knows this grief all too well. Last year, then 17-year old Laquan McDonald was murdered by a white supremacist police terrorist named Jason Van Dyke, who unloaded 16 rounds at McDonald in 14 seconds. Conjuring this image into my mind alone makes my stomach churn in knots, let alone viewing the video of McDonald’s murder that was released yesterday, despite the family’s opposition to its’ public release due to the graphic nature and trauma of the video. The Daily Beast, however, not only shared the video, but moreover creating a gif looping the murder of Laquan McDonald on repeat, subjecting readers to view it over and over again. Not only is the rendering of a traumatic death to a gif to be shared and circulated a profoundly obscene and degrading act, it also clearly articulates that the dignity and sanctity of Black life is non-existent. The widespread sharing of videos that document the horror of Black killings in this digital age is eerily akin to the history of spectacle lynching postcards during the Jim Crow era; both erode the voracious savagery of the murderous killings of Black people and at the same subsequently normalize and celebrate this hegemonic brutality.
This fascination with the cyclical and recurring consumption of dead Black bodies is cruel and obscenely dehumanizing. As a form of violence porn, it seems that the murders of Black people is oddly titillating to many who are far removed from the insidious and forthright impacts of anti-Blackness. The trend of consuming abuse porn where the subjects are consistently Black is detrimental to the compassion of which Black people are deeply worthy and denied. However, it remains true that the degradation of Black bodies is a commodity that has a global market built around it; and with the booming profit generated from the prison industry, the operation of which relies fundamentally upon the imprisonment, disenfranchisement, and killings of Black people, there is a high demand.
I have long been perplexed by how people can circulate gruesome images and videos of brutalized Black bodies and then go about their day. How is it impossible for some to fully indulge their senses with dead and limp corpses of Black people and then carry on with business as usual? How can people be so thoroughly unfazed by these shocking realities? Most importantly, what does this suggest about how the public passively denies Black people of compassion, and more fundamentally, our humanity?
Exploiting the onslaught of overlapping modalities of systemic harm against Black people for mere shock value is not social justice, it is not awareness-building. It is mechanism of violence and a tactic of dehumanization which results in our numbness and complacency in addressing the extreme violence at hand.
For the majority of us who are not members of Laquan McDonald’s family or close community, sharing the video has limited utility beyond re-triggering relatives and Black communities who are directly impacted and targeted by this type of brutality. Especially when Laquan’s family did not even want the video to be publicized in the first place.
In the midst of the subtle and state-induced forms of violence that Black people are inflicted with today, I want to remind myself and my loved ones that demonstrating solidarity with Laquan McDonald and his family does not necessitate our indulgence or mass consumption of violent imagery that reminds us of the humanity that this nation continues to withhold from us. We can still honor the sanctity of Laquans’ life, bring attention to the incessant and recurring violence Black people endure by living in this genocidal country, hold his police murderer accountable, continue to challenge this state, and demand an immediate end to the murders of Black people — all without showing the video of Laquan’s public execution.
Today I will honor the wishes of Laquan’s family by refraining from circulating the video. Today I will hold compassion and visualize freedom for a family that during this holiday season, is intimately grieving the loss of a loved one that has now become anything but intimate, and instead a nationally syndicated public affair. Today, I will lift Laquan’s name in compassion and power, re-commit myself to a lifetime of actualizing Black liberation and the de-criminalization of Black life. Today I decide not to desensitize myself by watching deeply traumatizing and heart-wrenching murders of Black people and instead cultivate compassion and love for my Black family and loved ones as I celebrate the beauty, courage, and resilience of Black love. Because we are absolutely worthy of nothing less.
Danielle Stevens is a California-raised, D.C.-based educator, cultural producer, writer, and community healer and is the Co-Founder of This Bridge Called Our Health, a community forum for women and femmes of color of all genders to explore, develop, and imagine the infinite possibilities of healing from trauma. She has been featured on Elixher Magazine, For Harriet, and is also the Director of Operations at Three Point Strategies, a Black women-led political & social justice strategy consulting firm based in D.C. You can follow her on Twitter here, indulge in her #BlackFemmeSupremacy Facebook musings here, and contact her here.