The circulation of Black Death on Social Media

Why is it that images of black people being killed are able to circulate on social media, but content regarding the murder or abuse of animals is banned? When was the last time you saw a white person’s death reposted on instagram? Which lives are valued? Are the lives of pets more valuable than the lives of black people?

Violence against the black body is nothing new in the United States. This country has a gruesome history in regards to the general treatment of black people. The black body has been deemed dangerous and disposable by those in power. This is evident in the treatment of black people throughout history; slavery, segregation and lynchings. These are examples of the way that the state has incorporated and normalized brutality against black people.

This legacy can be seen in the institution of policing. The police are an inherently brutal organ of the state, because it is only able to function with the imminent threat of violence. No matter the interaction, when police encounter civilians they are wielding the threat of violence, making each encounter brutal and traumatic even if one is able to leave an encounter unharmed.

There is a legacy of brutally killing black people and disseminating the gruesome images of their death in the United States-lynching. There was a time, not too far back, where postcards of the lynching of black people were sent all over the country. Crowds would gather to witness the brutal murder of innocent black men. The images of these lynchings were used to terrify black people and send the message that they are not safe in this country. Lynchings were an iteration of violence against the black body that was widely disseminated. The videos of many unarmed black men being killed, and circulated are ways in which black people are reminded that their safety is not guaranteed in this country. 

It is traumatizing and triggering to have social media saturated with images and videos of people that look like me being killed. The widespread circulation of this content is evidence of the legacy of the dehumanization of the black body. Black death is widely consumed and circulated, because our lives don’t matter in this white supremacist state. Our lives are seen as disposable and our humanity is disregarded.

When I see those videos I am unable to distance myself from those whose lives have been lost. Those are family members and friends whose gruesome death is posted and reposted. It is traumatizing and triggering. There are ways to share information in regards to these gruesome acts without constantly traumatizing the community those who have been killed were a part of.

It is important to stay informed and hold the people committing these heinous acts of violence accountable. It is also important to take into account how demoralizing it can be to be bombarded with images of your black brothers and sisters being killed at the hand of the state and white supremacists. You can be informed and hold those accountable without traumatizing the black people who follow you on social media.

It is impossible to forget the imminent threat that the United States poses on the black body as a black person. The circulation of these gruesome images and videos is a constant reminder that we are not safe here and that our lives are always at risk. Black people are brutalized and murdered everyday and the videos of the murder of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery are only the most recent and most circulated examples of black death. Rather than continue to traumatize and remind black folks by sharing these videos, say their names, get involved with grassroots organizations, contact local leaders and police departments to pressure them to hold the perpetrators accountable. If you want to get involved in seeking justice for George Floyd visit https://www.justiceforbigfloyd.com/ and get out and protest in your local community.

Over the past few days we have seen many people in this country mobilize to demand justice for George Floyd and all those who have been taken at the hands of police violence. It is important to stay informed and engage with those who are actively fighting for our rights.

Sarah is a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges where she majors in Africana Studies and Political Science. She is also the Co-President of Sankofa, the Black Student Union on campus.

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