I don’t know why I clicked it, but I did.
When I saw “Kenosha” start to trend last Sunday, it seemed innocent enough. I married a man from Wisconsin, and I’ve learned to blend in when I can. I’m now reasonably fluent in everything from cheese talk to the Green Bay Packers. (I blame Favre, yadda, yadda, etc.)
It was not what I was expecting. What I saw was a Black man being shot in the back numerous times by a white police officer. I watched him crumble. He appeared to be in his community, surrounded by horrified people, many of them young. And within a matter of seconds, the image — which was on repeat on social media — was encased in words of horror and blame, some deeply racist, some simply cries of pain.
This is the world we live in now. Trauma is captured, packaged, and amplified in seconds, surrounded by the thoughts and agendas of people we may never meet.
I write about race. I accept the fact that it is part of my job to review these images, to be able to understand and report on what happens. To that end, I have reviewed every single available video of a Black person’s death at the hands of the police since 2016. Sometimes numerous times. I always steel myself first. Sometimes I schedule it for when I feel strong and I know I’ll have time to catch my breath.
I never let it sneak up on me.
But on Sunday, I accidentally stumbled on the now-viral video of a 29-year-old man named Jacob Blake and watched as he was shot attempting to enter the SUV where his 3-, 5- and 8-year-old sons sat watching.
The truth is, I’m not okay. I don’t expect to ever really be quite okay again. Nobody who sees these videos can expect to be, especially if you’re Black. But this was a gut punch, a newly-urgent thumb on a bruise that will not heal. I let it sneak up on me.
I can’t afford to let my guard down in this world. And neither can so many Black people you know and work with.
In the long national “candid conversation” about race that we are now having, the price of Black emotional vigilance is high — poor health, exhaustion, and despair, among them.
I offer this as a reminder that it is no easier to walk into a Zoom room with Jacob Blake heavy on your heart than it is to a conference room. And if you’re an ally, particularly a white one, then it’s also a reminder to think about the images you publicly share into the great social media abyss. Commentator and civil rights activist Ashlee Marie Preston explains why.
“Sharing images of Black death on social media won’t save Black lives. Instead of eradicating our murders, it normalizes them,” she writes in this important piece. Historically, image-making around lynchings was designed to deter people from challenging white supremacy. “[B]y re-sharing, liking, or posting videos of Black people being murdered, you’re inadvertently helping to spread that message.”
She has a long list of things you can do instead, all of which are helpful. But here’s one that stood out to me. “Believe, listen to, and trust Black people,” she says. “Life is exhausting enough for Black people without having to debate our truths or prove our trauma is real.”
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