The rise of social media has led to the reconnection of long lost relatives, instant sharing of baby photos, jetsetting travels and much more. Yet, it has also become the vehicle for the display of Black pain. As each Black death becomes newsworthy the frequency of videos popping up in my news feed and hashtags rise. Today it’s #StephonClark. The news story remains the same, black man, unarmed, died at the hands of police who “feared” for their lives. The script continues as the past of the victim is dug up and put on national display for scrutiny. As if his humanity were not enough to request justice for his death.
One click…one like…one share…. it goes viral and Black folks are reminded that the justice system was never meant to work in their favor. That the only justice we can seek is in the sharing and voyeurism of black men dying on camera. It is unfortunate that even in our final moments in order to validate our existence it must be recorded. I remember when Trayvon Martin was killed and the audio of the 911 call was released. It sent chills through my body. I could not listen to anything like that again. Since then I have chosen not to watch, like, or share a video of Black men or women dying. I cannot listen to the gun shots riddle their bodies, their gasps for air, their requests for help, the screams of girlfriends and children. I’ve never been a fan of scary movies but every now and again when I feel brave enough I can steal a glimpse or two at the screen. But I cannot watch the real loss of life as if it is just another fictional Stephen King horror film. Black pain on display in constant replay is reality tv in it’s most gruesome form and it is overwhelmingly exhaustive.
When we watch these videos our brains are storing this information. The information is so toxic that it is proving to have a negative impact on our mental and physical health. Research suggests that frequent exposure to the shootings and death of black people can have long-term effects on mental health. The daily microaggressions, stress from work, and family life already impact on our bodies. Viewing graphic video combined with lived experiences of racism, can further create psychological problems similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The addition of trauma from these videos puts further wear and tear on our bodies that we often don’t recognize.
How do we protect our mental health?
Knowing this, the question becomes can we stand up for justice for those who die at the hands of police without becoming consumers of their deaths and further impacting our mental health? It can feel like if we don’t share a video then we lose our chance at justice but the evidence stays with us–a time stamp on our news feed and embedded in our subconscious. Unplugging and taking a break from the media and online platforms is an act of self-care. Not watching and sharing the videos of black men dying from police violence is an act of self-care. Knowing that this won’t be the last time Black men make the news, here are a few ways to practice self-care:
- Monitor the amount of media that you consume and take a break away from all social media when necessary.
- View only when you are are in a clear headspace, as graphic content can trigger negative emotions,
- Take some time to talk to others about how you are processing this information.
I know it may seem hard to just scroll past these stories but it is necessary that we do not become maim to the humanity of Black men. These men were sons, fathers, brothers, cousins; they had jobs, responsibilities, and people who needed them. Each loss of life is a withdrawal from an investment which we can never get back. It is a loss of time from daycare, piano lessons, high school, sports practice, prom, driving lessons, college graduation and so on. It is the plucking of a fruit that has not ripened. It is a loss for us all when we tune it out.