The “Active Viewer”: On the Side of Justice or Nah?

For some, like myself, the realities that the Black Lives Matter movement portrays are personal and create trauma. As a Black woman who is constantly sifting through these traumatic realities and trying to shape my work to be a counter story, I am in a pendulum process where I oscillate between trying to desensitize myself to the triggers, and remaining in my feelings of anguish and rage to stay fueled. Boldly stated, racism is inconvenient for everyone. Racism calls for an involved audience and is similar to a rapture where it takes all those in its wake. Bennett (2003) called for a more involved empathy where one “must pursue experience itself rather than affinity or identity”, but as part of the political spectacle, most do not pursue the experience and instead try to identify from their own vantage point. We saw this illustration within the Black Lives Matter movement and, in turn, people began spreading the All Lives Matter or the Blue Lives Matter slogan. This was further viewed in the responses to what was happening across college campuses where the narrative to the activism was the push for free speech and a critique of the Black students’ sensitivity threshold. Whereas Bennett articulates a sentiment where the chance to move towards change is based in the ability for one to have authentic empathy, we are often left with idiopathic approaches and lack of criticality. It is the blurring of these traumatic experiences, highlighted in this blog, that calls for a critique and publicly reveals a rupture of my own personal threshold.

“…I’m tired of the racism,”. Thirteen-year-old- Za’Khari Waddy wrote a letter to his principal after experiencing bullying because of the color of his skin by his white peers in the middle school he attended. In one instance, a white student told Waddy, “Your ancestors hung from a tree and you should too”.  In South Carolina, a month before Waddy’s letter, a young Black girl was slammed and thrown across the classroom by a police officer because she refused to leave the class. At the campus of Mizzou in Missouri, Black students called for their president’s’ resignation due to his lack of response to the racist incidents that were reoccurring on campus. In Berkeley, CA, a white student wrote a racist statement on campus computers that read “KKK FOREVER PUBLIC LYNCHING December 9, 2015” and a year before in October there was a noose hanging from a tree in the school yard. The school’s Black Student Union’s response was to walkout from all their classes where more than 1,000 students gathered and made demands to the principal that called for action and brought awareness. In light of these selected sites of Black trauma, I question what does this mean for Black students across America who are inundated with these images and stories both in secondary and higher education? Moreover, what does this mean for the active viewers and their influences? For the purposes of this blog, I have defined the “active viewers” as those who accepted the doctrine of the American Dream and who remain uncritical of oppressions within the nation. Separately, and in contention with the “active viewers”, I articulate that liberation is praxis and is evident as such when looking at the current movement of the youth.

James Baldwin once said, to be conscious is to be in a constant state of rage. I question amidst this rage, how does one fight for the larger goal of transformational change? Referring to the viewership of the Black Lives Matter movement, how do citizens decide their level of criticality and how does this relate to the response of society? This question is what the movement demands of its bystanders and to pick a side. There have always been movements, rebellions, protests, and in each they demand the nation to decide where they will stand. Black Lives Matter unsettles the active viewers.Whether the activists are walking into gentrified areas interrupting the lives of, what some have termed as, the “new age colonizers”, or are blocking the flow of traffic by using their bodies to force everyone to become involved as a viewer, they push the viewer to come to grips with what Black people face in this country everyday, silencing. Silencing of bodies, of minds, of families, and silencing of the ways in which to respond to inequities. In this time of gross injustice, there is no neutrality and either you are on the fight for justice in solidarity with the communities who are enduring, or you are against it.


Ballentine, S. & Zagier, S. A. (2015, November 8). What’s going on with the protests at the university of missouri? Huffpost College. Retrieved from

Bennett, J., World Memory: Personal Trajectories in Global Time. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, pp. 177-193.

Fausset, R. & Southall, A. (2015, October 26). Video shows officer flipping student in south carolina, prompting inquiry. The New York Times. Retrieved from

King, Shaun. (2015, November 12). The heartbreaking letter of a virginia teenager detailing the racial abuse he faces daily at school. New York Daily News. Retrieved from

Taylor, T., Knobel, L., & Raguso, E. (2015, November 5). Berkeley high students walk out, rally after racist threats. Berkeleyside. Retrieved from