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I wasn’t ready to watch Jacob Blake get shot in the back. Social media didn’t care

August 25, 2020, 11:40 PM UTC

I don’t know why I clicked it, but I did.

When I saw “Kenosha” start to trend last Sunday, it seemed innocent enough. I married a man from Wisconsin, and I’ve learned to blend in when I can. I’m now reasonably fluent in everything from cheese talk to the Green Bay Packers. (I blame Favre, yadda, yadda, etc.)

It was not what I was expecting. What I saw was a Black man being shot in the back numerous times by a white police officer. I watched him crumble. He appeared to be in his community, surrounded by horrified people, many of them young. And within a matter of seconds, the image — which was on repeat on social media — was encased in words of horror and blame, some deeply racist, some simply cries of pain. 

This is the world we live in now. Trauma is captured, packaged, and amplified in seconds, surrounded by the thoughts and agendas of people we may never meet. 

I write about race. I accept the fact that it is part of my job to review these images, to be able to understand and report on what happens. To that end, I have reviewed every single available video of a Black person’s death at the hands of the police since 2016. Sometimes numerous times. I always steel myself first. Sometimes I schedule it for when I feel strong and I know I’ll have time to catch my breath.  

I never let it sneak up on me.

But on Sunday, I accidentally stumbled on the now-viral video of a 29-year-old man named Jacob Blake and watched as he was shot attempting to enter the SUV where his 3-, 5- and 8-year-old sons sat watching. 

The truth is, I’m not okay. I don’t expect to ever really be quite okay again. Nobody who sees these videos can expect to be, especially if you’re Black. But this was a gut punch, a newly-urgent thumb on a bruise that will not heal. I let it sneak up on me. 

I can’t afford to let my guard down in this world. And neither can so many Black people you know and work with.

In the long national “candid conversation” about race that we are now having, the price of Black emotional vigilance is high — poor health, exhaustion, and despair, among them.

I offer this as a reminder that it is no easier to walk into a Zoom room with Jacob Blake heavy on your heart than it is to a conference room. And if you’re an ally, particularly a white one, then it’s also a reminder to think about the images you publicly share into the great social media abyss. Commentator and civil rights activist Ashlee Marie Preston explains why.

“Sharing images of Black death on social media won’t save Black lives. Instead of eradicating our murders, it normalizes them,” she writes in this important piece. Historically, image-making around lynchings was designed to deter people from challenging white supremacy. “[B]y re-sharing, liking, or posting videos of Black people being murdered, you’re inadvertently helping to spread that message.”

She has a long list of things you can do instead, all of which are helpful. But here’s one that stood out to me. “Believe, listen to, and trust Black people,” she says. “Life is exhausting enough for Black people without having to debate our truths or prove our trauma is real.”

Ellen McGirt

On point

Jacob Blake is reportedly paralyzed; protest continue in Kenosha  In Kenosha, people are still gathering, in spite of an 8 pm curfew. Demonstrations have popped up in Portland, Ore.; New York City and Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has sent 125 National Guard members to the city, which is bracing for another night of protest. Kenosha police do not wear body cameras, so the bystander video that spread on social media appears to be the only one documenting the incident.
Los Angeles Times

Black venture capitalists prepare to settle their accounts This piece from Bloomberg politely characterizes Silicon Valley’s racism as “quiet,” but I’m not so sure everyone agrees. But the venture investors interviewed for the story are frustrated by the culture, the lack of respect and exhausted by the expectation that they do more for the cause. “Have I been so complicit that I’ve traded success for not making a difference?” asks Tyson Clark at Alphabet Inc.’s GV, and one of the Valley’s most prominent Black investors. “Humbly, there are a group of people in my position who want to do something, but feel like we don’t have enough power yet to be influential on this topic. It’s painful for all of us to feel this helplessness.”

A Black professor, forced to vouch for her visiting brother, must also vouch for herself It is a familiar story, but no less humiliating. Danielle Fuentes Morgan, a Black assistant professor at Santa Clara University, opened her front door on Saturday morning to see her brother, Carlos Fuentes, detained by a campus police officer. They demanded she affirm his story, then asked to see her campus ID. Click through for the story you already know — this woman and her brother are spectacular people — then think about this. What candid conversation about race does this “idyllic Jesuit campus in Silicon Valley” with a 2% Black student body and 7 Black faculty members need to have now?
Washington Post

On background

Remembering the doctors we never had   In 1910, a report was published which changed the way medicine was taught. The Flexner Report established — or seized control of — medical school standards, and eliminated certain established programs, like those housed in historically Black colleges and universities. What would the world look like if students at those HBCU-based medical programs had been able to get trained over the years? A new study published in JAMA attempts to answer just that. Prepare for a broken heart: “If the 5 closed historically Black medical schools had remained open, the steady expansion and rapid expansion models indicated that these schools might have collectively provided training to an additional 27 773 graduates and 35 315 graduates, respectively, between their year of closure and 2019.” What influence would they have had?

A black village was razed to make way for Central Park It was called Seneca Village, and it grew to span the blocks between 82 and 89 streets on what is now the western edge of the park. It was founded in 1825 and became a refuge for the nominally free men and women who lived and worked there; half of the residents owned their own homes. Three churches, a school, and dozens of homes were demolished, lost in a court battle that didn’t last long. Researchers from Columbia, CUNY, and the New York Historical Society have been pushing to excavate, with some efforts beginning in earnest in 2011. To understand more about the black experience up North in the 1800s would be a gift to history. It can’t have been easy. Said Mordecai Noah, founder of The New York Enquirer, “the free negroes of this city are a nuisance incomparably greater than a million slaves.” 
Bushman blog

Let’s make the workplace safe for grief  Grief is more than just a temporary condition. It is a form of invisible disability, causing people to spiral into anxiety, depression, become withdrawn or scattered. And now, more than ever, there’s a lot to grieve. And yet, there are few companies that have clear policies or positions for bereavement, and fewer if the person who has been lost is a friend or more distant relative. “The 'take all the time you need' approach can do more harm than good," suggests Jennifer Moss, of Plasticity Labs. She offers several tips on becoming a more responsive workplace, and all of them involve an authentic willingness to confront the truth. It helps grieving people feel less alone. “It’s critical for business leaders to make understanding grief part of other trainings that employees get on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and so on,” she says.


This edition of raceAhead was edited by Aric Jenkins

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