I love and applaud the fact that the director is a black woman who collaborated directly with the black men who suffered at the hands of injustice as children, to retell this story. No one can deny the informative power of sharing stories like this. But after watching the first episode of the mini series, I decided that I cannot and will not sacrifice the stability of my heart and mind just to endure yet another example of how ‘black trauma’ is capitalised and sold as entertainment, under the guise of ‘staying woke’.
I hear and agree with the many positives of watching this series and many alike, but for me the positives do not outweigh the implicit and explicit mental costs that come along with sharing stories like this with no debrief, follow up or sustainable changes in policies to safeguard black people.
It is another repackaged real story of black trauma that will certainly spark conversation, encourage research, but result in very little (if any) change.
Another story for people to gawk at and despair at how sad it was for a ‘moment’ but nothing follows behind to ensure that:
a) it doesn’t happen again and
b) black people’s identity is not marred with a narrative of constant pain and dehumanisation.
Trauma is not a hallmark of being black. Trauma is not a rite of passage for being black. Trauma should not be glorified as a black experience.
Ultimately – trauma requires therapy. Secondary trauma is real and people don’t realise that constant exposure to the black trauma narrative is detrimental to their mental health. People are living vicariously through the traumatic experiences of others instead of living out their own stories. People are riled up and angry and navigate their lives not knowing what to do with that anger. People are traumatised!
You watch the series/show/film, the traumatic event has ended, but your reaction to it has not. The intrusion of what we absorb via the media subconsciously invades our everyday lives, our identity, the way we see ourselves and the way we view others. It directs our decisions without knowing and becomes a veil over every experience from then onwards.
Watching shows/series/films like ‘when they see us’ is psychologically traumatising and does nothing for advancing black people’s self-concept.
The truth is incredibly important to know, and my understanding is that the series was created to humanise the black boys who were painful victims of wrongful convictions due to racial biases and hatred, to be frank! I have no doubt that ‘when they see us’ is informative in nature and can be a tool to ‘educate’…
But, what do real stories like this mean for the present-day black child?
What are the consequences of watching such a series for young black boys or black people in general?
How are we safeguarding our minds against despair, the imposter syndrome and the numerous hidden issues that arise when faced with yet another story of black trauma?
We are so consumed with the heightened (narrowly good) attention that series like this give to these issues, that we negate the unseen psychological consequences of sharing these stories with no follow up. People should be empowered to choose to show support and concern without harming their mental health.
Watch ‘When They See Us’ if you wish…but do so with caution and be brave enough to stop watching if it gets too much and becomes unbearable. Also, be weary if you ‘feel nothing’, as that may be an indication of severe trauma revealed through being numb or desensitised!
It is very clear that the intention, guise (appearance), purpose of media like this is clearly to raise awareness. But with real stories of black trauma it is often not done without capitalisation and it is most certainly not done with due consideration of mental health.
Due consideration happens during the planning stages. Just like in the world of academia, before conducting research we gain ethical approval. In the same way, before airing programs like this, there should be an ethical warning (if you will) followed by a wholesome debrief. This all needs to be a significant part the planning process.
Having an ‘age’ limit for viewing is not enough. There are grown people devastated by trauma like this and they simply don’t know how to navigate through it without it affecting their every day lives.
My decision to discontinue watching the series does not mean that I don’t support the cause or that I have the desire to be ignorant of the realities of what black people faced and are still facing. I choose to engage in different ways that are not detrimental to my psychological and emotional wellbeing!