“I think the mainstream media is addicted to trauma porn when it concerns black people…Those horrific images that we have of the Twin Towers falling to the ground are all we remember about 9/11. In cases where we think about mass shootings that predominantly affect white communities such as Sandy Hook, we don’t have pictures of white bodies. -Allissa V. Richardson, Ph.D.
From the days of American slavery to the present, the world has seen an abundance of media depicting black trauma-from death to violence and everything in between.
On Memorial Day, Christian Cooper was the target of white rage.
In a now viral encounter, the avid birder got into a confrontation with a white dog walker in Central Park who refused to leash her pup. Pet owner, Amy Cooper, called the police and wrongfully accused Christian Cooper (no relation), an African-American man of “threatening” her life. Christian caught the whole thing on camera, and the run-in made headlines. His decision to film the incident was very intentional.
“When Philando Castile was shot dead in Minnesota, he did all the things that we’re told,” Christian told The Root. “You’re supposed to contort yourself into all sorts of pretzels to make sure that some white person doesn’t feel like you’re a threat.” He continued, “He did all these things and he still ended up shot dead in front of his girlfriend and with the little child in the back of the car. And when that happened, I kind of thought to myself, ‘They’re going to shoot us no matter what.’ And that being the case, I’m going to go down with my dignity intact.”
During his viral Central Park encounter, Christian was a black witness (filming the incident) and the target of violence. While in some cases cell-phone footage is necessary to prove that an atrocity occurred-and in this specific case, Christian Cooper’s innocence-one can’t help but wonder about the impact of witnessing violence against black people again and again.
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Allissa V. Richardson is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Southern California, and the author of Bearing Witness While Black: African-Americans, Smart Phones and Protest Journalism. In her text, she discusses the notion of black witnessing and identifies three historic eras of domestic terror towards black people: Slavery, lynching and police brutality.
When examining the recent protests for black lives, the professor says that the mainstream media has also shown disparities in their coverage, as opposed to the “Open America” protests. African Americans who chose to protest don’t receive similar justice.
“What starts out as a meaningful, peaceful demonstration then comes the fire and brimstone coverage that you see looped again on television. Re-traumatizing and almost making caricatures out of black people who are protesting for someone they care about, someone they loved.” Richardson went on detailing the disparities: “They [“Open America” protesters] can demonstrate and have their demands met almost immediately; states began to reopen as soon as they stood on those steps with their guns.”
Watch above as we unpack the good, the bad and the downright traumatic aspects of filming and sharing violence against black folks on video.