Op-Ed

No Longer Will I Partake in Black Trauma Porn

Zanta Nkumane on why he can't watch another video of black suffering.

The recent killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in the U.S. sparked outrage from across the world, and rightfully so. In typical fashion, thanks to the digital age we live in, these horrific killings were caught on camera. But as I watched the footage of Philando Castile, I had a sudden realisation: I can’t watch another one of these videos.


I understand the motive behind sharing visual evidence of American society’s undeclared pandemic, the murder of black people – mainly at the hands of law enforcement. The world deserves to know what is happening. It’s an issue that affects all of us. The universality of blackness means we all share in the pain.

And when black people share these videos, their intention is of course not meant to hurt other black people. It’s to create awareness and, hopefully, protest against the senseless violence directed at black bodies. The videos have forced us to become even more conscious of our blackness in this white patriarchal world. And while here in South Africa there hasn’t been a strong campaign focused on race issues like #BlackLivesMatter in the U.S., what the videos have done is open up the discourse about race. Black South Africans are finally speaking out and challenging the racial issues of “post-apartheid” South Africa.

But I refuse to watch another video. I am numb. I will not indulge or engage with any retweet of another black person’s suffering. To some, this may sound ignorant. Or perhaps even denialism. But it’s quite the opposite. It's because doing so is proliferating the spread of black trauma porn.

Discussions on race have never been more necessary, and topical, than they are currently. Black trauma porn is a pervasive narrative throughout the news and social media. And based on disturbing statistics, it’s not going anywhere.

An image of Eric Garner's eyes by the street artist JR at the Millions March NYC of December 2014.

But black trauma porn is not merely the murder of black people in U.S. It’s happening right here on African soil. Take the recent uprising in Zimbabwe for instance. The protests against the Mugabe-led government were marked by police brutality that resulted in the death of a toddler from toxic inhalation when police tear gassed a block of flats in Bulawayo and the senseless beating of a woman in front of a crying baby.

Looking at recent years, perhaps the most discussed incident of police brutality was the chilling Marikana massacre, in which South African Police opened fire on striking mineworkers in Marikana, leaving 34 mineworkers dead and 78 wounded. There was also the vicious murder of Andries Tatane, a 33-year-old black South African man, during a service delivery protest in 2011, in which Tatane was beaten and shot by the police for attempting to stop law enforcement from using water canons to disperse the crowd.

Across the whole continent, we’ve witnessed instances of brutality at the hands of those meant to protect and keep order in society. In Kenya, in May 2016, police repeatedly kicked an apparently unconscious man who lay on the ground after tripping while attempting to flee from the police during a demonstration which he said he was not involved in.

This idea of black trauma porn extends even beyond the violence of law enforcement. Black lesbians in South Africa are under attack. The news is littered with stories of corrective rape and hate crimes perpetrated against young, black lesbian women attacked and raped.

Blackness is tethered to some form of pain. The structural autonomy of whiteness seems to derive a warped pleasure at seeing black pain shared. We may spend hours protesting, writing inspired Facebook statuses and retweeting “woke” threads, but the change is not happening fast enough. We are yet to see tangible results. Where are the laws against hate crimes? Where is the justice for the slain black men, women and children?

We are continually flooded with the images of black suffering, yet black realities remain unchanged. So please, don’t bring the rants of Penny Sparrow, Vicky Momberg or the anti-black rhetoric of Lerato Tshabalala onto my timeline. I’m tired of hearing how sub-par blacks are. I can’t watch another one of my kind attacked with a palpable hatred or see their blood stain tar. I can’t partake in black trauma porn anymore. The imagery and sounds loom in my head and haunts me for days afterwards.

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