I am one of the 18% of Americans who often get news from their social media feeds. That's how I heard about Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old black man who was shot by a white police officer outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Tuesday.
It made me sick to my stomach. It was so gruesome, I had to write this post, in all honesty, to distract myself from that sickening feeling.
What are we to do? Author Ta-Nehisi Coates says this of police brutality: "It’s the cameras that are new. It’s not the violence that’s new."
I'm torn. Watching these videos, on one hand, awakens us to the terror of violence; it makes us bear witness to social injustice. At the same time, it normalizes suffering; it numbs us to the spectacle of death. Are we doing more harm than good by sharing this type of footage to our networks?
In journalism, there's a saying: "If it bleeds, it leads." In truth, readers are more likely to spend time on their cell phones consuming crime stories, compared to other types of news, like entertainment or politics. We literally can't avert our eyes.
Studies have shown that fear-based stories and programming can lead to anxiety and depression. No doubt, they also de-sensitize us to what should be intolerable to watch.
The story line of black citizens getting shot by white cops is repetitive to the point of repulsion, in this country. And yet. Here we are again, adding another man's name to the list, as social entrepreneur Randi Gloss knows too well from her GLOSSRAGS "And Counting" apparel line.
We are in an era of the commodification of black death. Building awareness is a crucial first step in enacting change. But what happens when we watch videos of men and women getting killed, on what feels like an endless loop?
"We run the risk of reducing them to just a death and erasing the beautiful existence many of them had prior to the deadly moments that introduced them to us all," writer William C. Anderson says.
What does this mean for society? For America? For black America?
When it comes to the #blacklivesmatter movement, the conversation has shifted from one of counting bodies to evaluating psyches.
What makes the video of a young black man getting shot different from a picture of a young black man getting hanged from a tree? It's modern-day lynching, according to writer Leron Barton and others:
"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?"
April Reign, journalist, editor and creator of #OscarsSoWhite, calls the video of Sterling's shooting "morbid voyeurism" and "perverse entertainment" that won't change anyone's mind about what they already believed happened. The video, she says, is best shared among law enforcement officials, not friends and followers.
Brittney Cooper, who teaches Women's and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, shares a bluntly pessimistic view about how "black death has become a cultural spectacle":
"In this cultural climate, it will take, it seems, an ocean of Black bodies to convince white people that structural racism is a problem. Therefore, I am not convinced in this moment that this video means anything. We watched Eric Garner die on video. We watched Tamir Rice die on video. The officers who killed both of them are free. Black people have no reason to trust that video evidence will lead to any significantly different outcome..."
Cooper wasn't even writing about Alton Sterling. She was writing about Walter Scott. In April 2015.
I don't want to see an ocean of bodies. Make the bleeding stop.
This is my 13th blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years. Unlucky 13, for an unfortunate day.