Gory videos don’t make black deaths ‘real’

2015-04-12 15:00

A minimum amount of violence and terror against black – in particular African – bodies is the norm. In Kenya alone, al-Shabaab has murdered more than 400 people over the past two years.

But it took the gratuitous massacre of 147 people last week and the horrific Westgate Mall attack in 2013 to get a response.

This week, Boko Haram is reported to have killed 24 Nigerians, but those lives are mere numbers, with no call to remember and humanise them.

What does this mean?

There is a deep contradiction in how we respond to certain deaths and rush to criticise the rest of the world for not responding in ways that we do not. You see it in the way we respond to escalating crime here (we rarely notice, unless it is particularly gruesome) and how we respond to the al-Shabaab attacks in, say, Somalia (the dead are neither commemorated nor numbered there any more).

More distressing is the continued parading of black bodies, the explicit imagery of the dead and the obsessive sharing of a video showing the graphic gunning down of an African-American – particularly by those who claim to be doing this to humanise black suffering.

Violence against, and the oppression of, black people is not “real” until we see it. There exists a global fetish for black suffering.

But when we share images of the massacred at Garissa, the dead at Baga (including numerous fake images from other attacks) and the police shooting of Walter Scott (the 300th African-American murdered by police in the US this year), we partake in the global sport of gawking at black suffering.

We whip out images of the murdered at Marikana as indictments of the ANC government, forgetting those were actual people, not props.

And the rhetoric that we must see these images “for awareness”, so as “not to forget” is false.

Endless evidence, facts and data confirm there is a real, connected global system of terror and violence against black people.

And if it is not enough to read and hear that 147 people were murdered by al-Shabaab, that Walter Scott was shot eight times in the back, to hear from people living in fear, then no number of gruesome images and amount of video footage can change that.

It is precisely this refusal to believe lived experiences, as well as accepting that there can be such a thing as a “normal” amount of violence against black people, that keeps the system of violence ticking.

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