Nothing has really changed and we still haven’t asked ourselves how this is affecting the Black psyche and especially the young Black psyche.
I consider myself to be a daily social media user. I am constantly logged into Facebook, checking Twitter at least twice a day, and regularly open Instagram to see what Snoop Dogg is up to. I am hooked and it is a big part of my life. All of my friends share cute videos of their animals and pictures of what fancy meal they have prepared. It’s a popular past time. Unfortunately, sharing videos of African-Americans being assaulted and/or murdered by the police has become just as, if not more, popular.
There are very few things that I can say 100% without a doubt I will not do – take drugs intravenously, root for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and watch videos of Black people being attacked or killed. Within the past four to five years, there has been an endless parade of YouTube clips, cell phone videos, and mini movies of Black people being shot, beaten, terrorized, and killed by law enforcement officers. Some of the victims on these videos are: Marlene Pinnick, the 51-year-old grandmother repeatedly punched by a California Highway Patrolman in 2014; Walter Scott, the unarmed man shot by South Carolina police in 2015; the young African-American women attacked at the McKinney, Texas pool party; and the murder of mentally disabled Mario Woods in San Francisco, California. What once was an anomaly now is the norm. If you perform a search on Google for “Black people being beat by police on video” there will be over 18,000 results.
While I have never watched any of these videos or “snuff films” (as The Context of White Supremacy podcast calls them), I have to wonder, “What are we getting out of this experience? Why are clips of Black men being brutalized so popular?” Video after video, these images are bandied around the web with much fervor and excitement. When a school police officer in South Carolina was recorded body slamming a young lady and dragging her from the seat, this clip was all the rage, shared around the world.
At last check, the view count for this single video on YouTube was over 272,000. I could never understand why we would want to watch a grown man assault a minor. Even worse, the short video of Eric Garner being murdered by police officer Daniel Panteleo in Staten Island, New York was viewed online thousands of times and broadcasted multiple times a day on television. It’s as if we cannot get enough of the sight of Black life being extinguished before our eyes. I get an eerie feeling every time someone emails or posts a video like this on Facebook. As I recoil at the thought of this, I grow even more concerned about our youth. What impact is this having on them?
When young Black men watch these videos of themselves being killed, we don’t think about the stress they are going through. I didn’t fully realize this until recently when I had a conversation with my little brother. We talked about the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, and I had asked M if he had watched the video of Garner being strangled to death. M said “Yeah.” I then asked him, “How does that make you feel?” M replied, “It seems like they can kill us and get away with it and we can’t do anything.” There was a sense of hopelessness in M’s voice and that hurt me to the core. It’s a hard feeling to have when you cannot bullshit or give someone the answers they need and seek from you. We then talked about the video being shared amongst people in the school. I thought to myself, “Watching Black men being beaten on video is the new lynching postcard.”
In 2000, The New York Historical Society hosted “Without Sanctuary”, a photo exhibit that showcased postcards of African-American’s being lynched. From Yreka, California to Durant, Oklahoma, 5×7 photos were displayed showing Black men and women in various stages of brutality and death hanging from trees. These postcards were “party souvenirs”, that were given out to whites who attended the lynching. As I looked at these postcards, I saw the smiles and excitement on many white people’s faces as they watched a man or woman being killed so barbarically, and the fact that images of Black death had been so popular.
What is even more disturbing is that many families still have these images in an attic or closet and are passed down from generation to generation. “Hey, look at this picture from years back of a nigger hanging from a tree,” I can imagine a grandfather telling his grandson as he regales in telling the young boy of how “justice” was dispatched. Fast forward to 2016: while how we consume media is different, we are still sharing images of Black people being killed by white people. Nothing has really changed and we still haven’t asked ourselves how this is affecting the Black psyche and especially the young Black psyche. What messages are they internalizing? How do they view themselves? How do they view the world?
One of the more interesting, but less addressed issue behind these films is that they primarily show Black people being attacked. In the past four years since I have seen video clips of African-American’s being murdered/or assaulted by police, I have not seen any videos shared that involve interactions between white people and police. While whites may not be victims of police terrorism at the rate African-Americans are, I find it rather odd, disturbing, and sad that only Black pain is shared on social media. It’s as if the Black body and death is seen as less important compared to whites, as if even in our most vulnerable state, we are just entertainment.
I believe this form of racial theater, as Dr. Tommy J Curry of Texas A&M refers to these videos, is used to reinforce sick ideas that Black people are deviant by nature; that we are savages and need to be “tamed” and brought under control by police. These videos perpetuate the thought that the police are the good guys and that Black men and women are inherently violent, and that law enforcement officers are just “doing their job.” These clips affect perceptions of what police terrorism against African-Americans are nationally, but also internationally as well.
It is no secret that Blacks and whites view the cops differently. Most whites see police as protectors of society; African-Americans look at them as oppressive and dangerous. But most importantly, these snuff films can send a message to Black people: you are not worthy of respect, good treatment, and that you deserve what happens to you. These various clips devalue our lives at an early age and I shudder to think of what impact seeing Mario Woods being shot by five police officers has on a 10-year-old boy or girl. Will it stunt their growth mentally? Will he or she become detached and cold? I do not know.
I treat these snuff films like infomercials–I don’t watch them. I feel that constantly seeing the brutality that African-Americans suffer on a daily basis does not do anything positive to my mental and emotional state. Now you may ask, “LeRon, these videos are proof of the terrorism and danger we as Black people face every day, why shouldn’t we show people?” Well for starters, everyone already knows that we are brutalized. This belief of “showing the pain we go through to the oppressor, to appeal to their humanity” is a futile attempt. It is foolish not think the ones brutalizing us don’t realize what they are doing.
This line of thinking is parallel to “whites are ignorant about racism”, which is also untrue (and a whole ‘nother discussion). Finally, when does it cross the line from informing people to a sort of violence porn that many people enjoy seeing African Americans as the victim? Just something to think about. As a person that is concerned for other African-Americans, especially our young, we should stop parading around the death of ourselves. For the sake of ourselves and others, let’s stop this horrific sharing of Black pain and death on social media.
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