NegusWhoRead
Politics & Race
Porn Is The New Black

In the 1964 Supreme Court Case Jacobellis v Ohio Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain his feeling about whether something is obscene by writing:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.

The funny thing about this case was that the obscenity trial was about the French film The Lovers. If you dare watch the drawn-out movie now, you’d ask yourself, “Is this what they were so worked up about?” I’ve seen it, and although I wouldn’t want a seven-year-old watching it, I wouldn’t exactly call it “pornographic.” In fact, pornography has become so subjective as our exposure to it increases. What used to pass as pornography are just basic scenes in PG13 movies now. The banned scene from Basic Instinct is part of a commercial, and there might be 3 actresses in all of Hollywood who you can’t find a picture of their breasts. What outraged our grandfathers is just standard fare now.

That’s how the mind works. Eventually we see something or experience a thing so many times, that it is no longer shocking to our brains anymore. Obscene moved to cleaveage, to bare breasts, to full nudity. and even that no longer moves our needles. We need to see spitting and slapping and “busting it wide open” because we get desensitized.

It works that way with sex. It works that way with violence (remember how upsetting “bumfights” were 10 years ago?

And it works that way with Black bodies.

The still pictures of Emmett Till’s face was incredibly shocking to people. When the movie Roots came out in 1979, older people will tell you how they went to school furious at white people the next day. The horrific few scenes of whipping and maiming slaves caused an uproar over the in-your-face portrayal of slavery. Even the Rodney King video caused a national uproar. The Eric Garner video outraged millions across the country. They had never seen a black body being actually snuffed out. It was upsetting to too many people.

But that’s no longer true.

Now, there is a new video of police brutality or, someone being killed live on the internet on every news feed and timeline. We trade cell phone footage of black slaughter like Pokemon playing cards. And it’s not just white people hurting black people. It’s World Star Hip Hop clips. It’s after-school fights between teenage girls. It’s police choking someone to death. It’s pictures of Trayvon dead in the street. It’s Facebook Live, Instagram, Snapchatted black death in high definition and surround sound. We have become our own hidden-camera pornographers broadcasting the demise of black bodies as if they were birthday party home movies or prom pictures.

And the world is becoming desensitized.

Even if we aren’t contributing to our own deaths by distributing these images, we are helping the rest of America develop an immunity. We criticize the world for not doing anything about Black Lives, and then turn around and make the sight of black blood a commonplace occurrence. And the people who are becoming immune are not just the Caucasians who look from afar, most importantly–it is us who have become numb to our own pain.

If you had to heat unseasoned chicken and white people’s potato salad once a week, you might not think it was delicious, but you’d soon stop regarding it as horrible dreck. What does it do to the psyche of Black people when we keep ingesting the visions of white supremacy and our brains become accustomed to witnessing violence against us–no matter who the perpetrator might be.

Do we become pre-conditioned victims? Do we slowly begin to accept our fate? Even if the videos are meant to stoke our internal fires, how long does it take before we become accustomed to our own heat?

The people who share these videos don’t think about how it would feel if someone exploited the most painful moment of their families lives as if it were a dirty joke or passed their moment of death around to get a temporary high as if it were a joint at a house party. It is disrespect to the dead. It is malice.

I vowed over a year ago to stop watching police brutality videos. I don’t need to see them to know how heinous the police can be. I do not want those visions piled up in my head. Two things I don’t need to see–Sharon Stone’s vagina, and the end of a black life. I don’t need any more terrorist videos to explain what white supremacy looks like.

I know it when I see it.

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot