Sharing Videos Of Black People Dying Is Not Anti-Racism, It’s Trauma Porn

Sharing Videos Of Black People Dying Is Not Anti-Racism, It’s Trauma Porn

Evie Muir explores activism and trauma porn

It began with videos of Christian Cooper, a black man, being falsely accused of assault by a white woman. It progressed to the whispered last words of George Floyd as he was slowly murdered by a police officer. Now, it’s developed into footage of black people in their thousands being tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets – clips of entire communities being mowed down by police vehicles.

These images initiated a call to action against institutional and systematic racism and the world responded. Social media’s mass outrage ricocheted into mobilisation. Whilst sharing provocative and shock-inducing content can be constructive in its capacity for awareness-raising, a lesser discussed consequence is its potential to cause further harm to black people.

Posting content whereby black people are killed isn’t anti-racism, it’s trauma porn.

Trauma Porn is defined as “the perverse fascination by someone’s misfortune”. Sharing videos of black people getting killed turns our suffering into a spectator sport that voyeurs can peruse at their leisure.

The roles of those involved are divided by colour: occupying the stands are white spectators, whilst the partakers on the pitch are black.

You see, trauma porn isn’t a new phenomenon. It has simply evolved from the “strange fruit” that adorned trees; mass lynching’s of black bodies hanging from branches then depicted on postcards, to “Band Aid” stereotypes of starving, helpless black bodies used in Charity campaigns, to biopic films that litter streaming sites relaying the suffering of black people for your entertainment, to the swift sharing of content on social media. In an attempt to “raise awareness”, the routinely horrific nature of Trauma Porn perpetuates problematic narratives: Eurocentric notions of “the black victim”, White Saviourism and Othering.

There is a societal impact here. Sharing these videos act as a form of othering – look what is happening to those who aren’t us. As are the sentiments of disgust, outrage and dismay – if you are at all surprised and horrified by these images you have not been paying attention. Your shock indicates ignorance to our lived experiences; your anger proves you have not been listening: every single time you were told and shown racism, you didn’t listen. There is an innate privilege in being able to only just learn about racism, as opposed to experiencing it.

If you are posting this kind of content, it’s important to ask yourself why you feel this is necessary or helpful.

When was the last time you saw the murder of a white person, while scrolling through Twitter? Would you share a video of a white person getting killed? Is a similar video of a white person being killed ever to likely exist? (We’ve seen the recent disparities in police response to black and white protesters, we can definitively assume not.) Do you feel the sharing of the video constitutes as ‘enough’?

Imperatively, the individual impact is monumental. Trauma porn has the power to ignite extremely damaging long-term mental health issues within the black community. Not a single black person popped on their social media on the 25th May expecting to see real-time footage of the murder of one of our own.  We were not prepared for the innumerable times we would be forced to view that footage (in 1 hour, I counted 83 consecutive Instagram stories showcasing the murder). After viewing, we are consumed with grief. Skipping past these stories wasn’t effective; once viewed it is seared into your brain.

We weren’t even afforded the option to skip – not a single person offered a trigger warning. Black people don’t go on social media to see ourselves being murdered innumerable times a day. Aside from the trauma of seeing a person die, often in real-time, the implications are infinitely more insidious. Within the space of a 9-minute clip, black people are forced to confront their own humanity over Instagram.

Trauma porn acts as a dangerous reminder of what we already know, but what we often suppress as a means of survival: in the eyes of those meant to care for us, serve us, protect us, love us, we are less than. We are not safe. In that video, we saw our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances. A lifetime of overt oppression, micro-aggressions, marginalisation, exploitation and victimisation is triggered.

For every white people who shared that video, there is an entire black community in your following who’s now owed, free, culturally competent therapy that doesn’t exist on the NHS. Because of this, it’s impossible to relish the vindication of finally being seen.

Trauma Porn represents the privilege of ignorance. Black communities don’t need to see a video of a black person dying to know and believe that racism exists. However white people are unable to acknowledge racism’s existence or believe the experiences of black people without seeing proof.

How many times have we as black people had our realities dismissed, invalidated or excused by a white friend, family member or complete stranger on the basis that if it hasn’t happened to them it hasn’t happened to anyone? Hard evidence must be provided in order for the possibility of racism to be plausible, never mind enlist an emotional response or invoke change. To be shocked is a privilege. Whilst we were undoubtedly overwhelmed with emotions, not a single black person was shocked at the news that another black person had been killed.

Would what is arguably one of the biggest mobilisations of white support in the anti-racism movement have seen the same energy and momentum if this video had not existed, if the death of George Floyd had been word of mouth? Based on a proven track record of whiteness averting complicity, it’s not unreasonable to assume the answer is no.

There are countless resources available for white people to learn and unlearn, so I’ll simply summarise; believe black people with unequivocal, unquestionable resolve; read, watch, listen, learn about black people’s experiences to the extent that further injustices no longer shock (and don’t expect us to do the educating for you); and stop sharing provocative content depicting the harm of black people.

Use a trigger warning, or don’t post at all.  

For black people who may be feeling the weight of world right now and whose mental health may be impacted by the imagery you have been forced to receive, below are some Specialist Mental Health services which offer support, counselling and resources:  

 

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