Has it happened to you? Maybe you’re scrolling through Twitter searching… no, damn near begging for a meme of happiness… then BOOM! Under your thumb is a video of some racist cop assaulting a Black person for a reason as small as the Black History section of an American public school library.
Maybe you watch and you’re unbothered because hey, nothing new. Perhaps you are upset, a hair away from outraged. But maybe you’re like me. Your clumsy thumb has stumbled into a video you can’t click away from. Now you’re scrolling past any video that insinuates any type of violence, especially violence toward people who look like you.
People who reflect the cousins that made family reunions bearable.
People who remind you of classmates with eyes that sparkled with the anticipation of graduation.
People who make you reminisce about your neighbors, the ones who wouldn’t tell your mom that the streetlights were on and yo ass wasn’t home.
People who are people. Fucking people.
If this has happened to you or a loved one, please dial 1-800-DAMN-I-WISH-RACISM-WOULD-EXPIRE. What you have just experienced is what I like to call “second-hand Black trauma.” This phenomenon happens when Black people experience, or should I say re-experience, the consequences of our Blackness. It is the knot in your stomach when you watch that slavery movie or read that story about the war on drugs actually being the war on melanin (Huey from the Boondocks was right, Ronald Reagan is the devil).
It’s that feeling undertoning your Black joy during February because you are reminded of a horrible history, and perhaps even learn a new racist story that even has white people clutching their chests in disbelief at how racist America has been. I too am surprised at racism, Susan. Who knew Black people had to worry about CVS not accepting our coupons and racism. I too would like to speak to the manager Sally, I mean Sarah, oops, Susan.
For me, second-hand Black trauma waves at me through entertainment. Most recently through When They See Us.
This Netflix miniseries, written and directed by auntie Ava DuVernay, displays and dissects the Central Park Five case. I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the case because it charges the trauma I’m failing to avoid, but I will tell you this: five Black boys were wrongfully convicted of rape and spent 13 long ass years in prison because Black boys don’t have the chance to be boys. Their skin instills fear and hatred that transforms teenagers into grown men. It’s like some racist ass magic.
As you can imagine, people are disgusted. Somebody named Laura, Linda, Lucifer or whoever, is being dragged to Waste Management. Anyone else involved is on the highway to CancelledVille.
ETA? Just give Black Twitter a few more business days.
A fun thing I could do is throw shade and read America to filth about this unethical case, and darling, I’d love too but I. Am. Tide. (When I say “tide” I mean “tired.” No, I am not referring to detergent.) And to be honest… Black people don’t get mad at me… I didn’t watch the miniseries and I don’t plan to watch it at all. I don’t care what Rotten Tomatoes has to say. I refuse to dive into the depths of Black trauma reeking of triggers and covered in fuel for my undiagnosed depression.
I can’t afford therapy.
So where does that leave me and all the other Black people in the back saying “Bitch, me tew!” Here I am a Black person yearning for more content about Black people and auntie Ava delivers. But now my Black ass ain’t watching it.
Should I cancel myself now or later?
It’s not like I don’t want to watch it. The trailer was as fire as the Soundcloud of a skinny rapper. I want to support auntie Ava. I want to support Black shows, Black movies, Black everything. I want to support sharing such a powerful story because there are people out there who don’t get it. People who hear crumbs of the Black experience and simply shove it away because they don’t believe it, choose to trivialize it, or just ain’t got the desire to know. These stories could educate and amplify the Black voice. But stories like this are like preaching to the choir when it comes to Black people. This time, the sermon is a little too harmful for my mental health.
This leads to the question I believe our generation is facing.
We live in a world that doesn’t turn off. The bad things of the globe overflow, and we only have so much room in ourselves to consume it. So like a lot of young people I ignore it, choosing ignorance. Whoever said ignorance is bliss damn sure didn’t lie, because being unaware of a plethora of histories and current events creates a beautiful bubble for my spirit. Whoosah.
Ignorance isn’t something to be proud of though. Staying woke may lose you some sleep, but knowledge is a superpower and we all could be Avengers if we replaced our fists with facts. So do we choose to protect ourselves by fabricating a reality as real as McDonald’s chicken nuggets? Lemme get a six piece tho…with sweet and sour sauce. Or do we roll with the punches that hurt like a motherfucker?
Like Sway in that Kanye interview, I ain’t got the answers. But I do have this…
A few weeks ago I had no idea that five Black boys were wrongfully thrown in prison for 13 years right here in New York, where I live. Where I pay taxes that fund prisons exactly like the one those five Black boys were thrown in. There was a time when I didn’t understand that the man named after the streets I grew up on, Martin Luther King Jr., impacted millions of Black people, myself included. I had no idea who Emmett Till was and how his death, along with the deaths of many other Black people, paved a path to make my life, a life with more equality and freedom than not, a reality. Past me didn’t understand systemic racism and how those powerful systems affected and still affect Black people today.
I know it is hard digesting Black history and being informed about a reality that still doesn’t embody what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed. But as Black stories continue to make their way to Hollywood… as video proof of police brutality continues to compile then hopefully lead to justice… as I see the Black joy on our faces… I’ll remember that we are the seeds our ancestors watered. We are the mango trees breaking and blooming through the concrete our ancestors fought to crack.
As I am reminded that pain is a paintbrush providing the strokes to a masterpiece, I can make room for our stories…even if it hurts.
Still not watching When They See Us though. But catch me in the streets reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”.
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