Is My Living in Vain?: On the Visibility of Black Trauma on Social Media

by Candace Simpson

Please stop sharing videos and photos of dead Black bodies.

It is making us sick, triggering anxiety attacks, sending us into depression, and causing us to question the point of it all.

Last week, 148 students were killed in Garissa, Kenya. Rather than reflecting on their lives, I saw people share a triggering photo of their lifeless bodies on the floor of a courtyard at their university. I was sick, but I couldn’t escape the image.

This week, a video was released of Walter Scott being brutally shot eight times in the back (in broad daylight) as he ran away from white police officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina. How do I know the particulars of this story? Because people insisted on sharing the actual video that was used to charge Slager with murder across social media. As much as I tried to turn away, Facebook’s auto-start function meant I could not control when or how the video is displayed. So on the night the video went viral, I turned off my phone and slept for 10 hours.

I had to check out because I am not a “Strong Black Woman.” I bleed. I cry. I hurt. I am reminded of the timeless words of Joan Morgan in her classic, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost:
The original ‘STRONGBLACKWOMAN’ and her alleged ‘super strength’ was a myth created by whites to rationalize their brutality.
There is no rational explanation for police brutality. There is also no rational reason for bombarding people with images that might send them into dangerous mental spaces. I have asked friends on my social media pages to stop sharing these violent photos and videos.

Yes, we have a right to film the police. The way power is set up, the oppressed need tangible evidence of their own oppression… right? This is why we ask rape survivors to “prove” their assaults. This is why we ask the poor to “prove” their poverty. This is why we ask the undocumented to “prove” their worthiness for citizenship.

That’s the problem.

I’m waiting for the people who police my bikini photos and turn-up videos to also say something against the sharing of violent images. This is perhaps the one time the logic behind “everything doesn’t need to be posted for the world to see” is fair. The choice to post videos of brutal killings and beatings is an infringement upon my health and the health of many others.

Black women know the stakes, but people keep insisting we stick our fingers in Jesus’ wounds to be convinced he was actually crucified. Even after I tell people it makes me sick, they insist we need to keep sharing these videos. They argue that we need to remind this loosely-defined “them” of how sick it is. I keep hearing the infantilizing refrain: “If we don’t share these photos, then they won’t believe us.”

I am consistently taken on a guilt trip by the most aggressive sharers about watching things that hurt me, staying in places that are toxic, and proving that I’m “down” or “woke” enough for the movement. I can’t do that anymore.

I demand rest. I demand humanity. Exhaustion, exasperation, and trauma are human experiences. Let me have them.

As a sister, daughter, teacher, friend, activist, student, writer, babysitter, and tutor, I have to voice that my neck is being stepped on. I simply cannot hold the pain and trauma of everyone.

When we ask you not to share these graphic videos, take us seriously. We are not asking you to stop sharing because we are weak. We are not asking you to stop sharing because we want to pretend that the world is all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, if anyone knows that life in this world is hard for Black folks, it is Black women.

It makes me wonder what the Clark Sisters were really getting at when they sang, “Is my labor in vain?” When the statistics suggest that every 28 hours a Black person is killed by state violence, I wonder about both meanings of the word “labor.”

Firstly, is our work towards the cause of justice in vain? All the conference calls, the signs, the protests, the demonstrations, the die-ins, the late night organizing, the sleepless nights, the stress, the requests for extensions, the meetings—are these all in vain? Is the work for nothing?

I refuse to believe so.

But as Black women, there’s a larger question about “labor”: Is our childbirth in vain? Is our bringing children into this world in vain? Is it for nothing? I don’t have children, so I don’t pretend to understand the pain Black mothers experience. I will say that my experience in justice work has made me seriously reconsider my once solid plans of bringing children into this world. Is the labor for nothing?

I refuse to believe so. It can’t be.

The trauma will hit all of us in different ways, I understand. But your sisters need you to stop sharing videos and photos in which lifeless Black bodies are displayed without concern for how we might be seeing them. Because there are some of us who just cannot bear to ask the question any more:

Is my living in vain?

Photo: Shutterstock

Candace Simpson is a Brooklyn native and a seminary student. You can follow her tweets at @CandyCornball.

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