White Women, Don’t Watch “When They See Us” Alone; Watch it with other White Women and Talk About It
These five men, the exonerated 5, received a standing ovation last night at the 2019 BET Awards.
Ava DuVernay is a genius in many rights, and a brilliant director, but her work in bringing forth When They See Us strikes a note that can’t be compared to anything else.
Retelling a story that was falsely presented, and represented, and represented, and still clung to by some, and forgotten by as many, we are challenged to hold ourselves accountable for the torment our consumption of that narrative has cost these men.
We are tasked with gathering details left out, and grappling with how they implicate us.
We are presented with a narrative that needs space to contend with, deliberate space.
This past week I hosted a white fifteen-year-old for a week, and before she arrived, I asked her if she would be open to watching this docuseries with me while she was here.
I knew that it was important for me to view this new cultural work, but I also knew it was inadequate to watch it alone.
To be let off the hook of sharing the context I have for structural racism, white violence, white supremacy, white feminism, with someone who doesn’t, and who like myself is constantly consuming biases that construct her world view and self-image.
That not only construct her self-image, but make her a tool, even a mantra, for state violence and police brutality and white community’s apathy.
Our unconscious public education has to be brought to our attention to deal with.
Our conversations with each other have to get around to truer self-talk and talk about self.
They have to talk about being someone who is absorbing messages about what means justify what ends, and by whose influences.
Someone who is made in the image of the detective, the prosecutor, and the survivor in question.
Someone who is not yet a voter, but is coming to decisions about how to analyze her reality.
We watched the four-part series over three nights, pausing when pausing was necessary.
And as we watched, we discussed, and we contextualized, and we reacted to our reactions openly.
With silence, with listening, with breaks, and with a sense of accountability, because this is not a story that is done being represented to us, or re-consumed.
Since starting this blog eight months ago, I have written in depth about white women’s violences, and yet I am still searching for more precision of language to balance the nuance and lived experiences existing simultaneously, and that are having mostly negative impacts that require our course correction.
As we see again in this depiction, the experiences of white survivors are not owned by them, they are merely a tool for reinforcing larger scale violence, and not only as unwilling or unknowing participants.
In the case of Linda Fairstein, as a mastermind puppeteer. As one who knowingly altered facts. As one who showed no remorse, and no sense of boundaries. In her, an internalized belief system absorbs only confirmation biases, and its outputs are malicious, and impossible to take back.
In her, she received all the credit, while internalizing none of the responsibility, and insulated herself by a team of other actors.
And yet, what do we make of a survivor reliant on someone else to construct a memory that is lost to her?
What do we make of a woman who took advantage of someone’s unspeakable assault to justify another one using her as the kindling?
What do we make of a freshman in high school grappling with her peers getting caught up in a web of premeditated violence, noticing antiblackness for maybe the first time?
What container is needed to watch this film series and be led to an analysis that invites accountability, rather than leading you to cling to easier tropes.
What contextualizing are we missing that still sees this as limited to one example, or one harm, or even one implementation or surrounding mythology.
What came to mind as I watched this over the last week was something I used to say in advocate training as specifically survivors prepared to take hotline calls from other survivors.
When something is both emotionally strenuous, and intellectually strenuous, we need to be able to maintain both, and when and if we can’t, we will not be able to fulfill our role as advocates. Our sense of self, and consequent behaviors, will become inaccurate, and emphasize a lack of responsibility.
As white women, we need to begin to view accountability in this way — as requiring both intellectual skills as well as emotional ones, and specifically needing us to practice using them together.
We need to be honest with ourselves about what we’re capable of.
We need to be honest in public when we see these narratives being rekindled.
We need to protect our experiences and how and what they are used for.
We need to not mince words, or cover eyes, or withhold examples that allow us to see ourselves.
We need to have the skills that allow us to engage with accountability, and if we have any already, we need to be sharing them, using them, and teaching them.