Opinion: When They See Us – If You Can’t, Don’t.

Sometimes, you just can't.
By now you know that Ava Duvernay‘s limited series ‘When They See Us’ premiered on Netflix last week.  When They See Us is a four-part mini-series that tells the story of the Central Park Five.
Yesterday, I text back and forth with 8 people that were not ready to watch #WhenTheySeeUs.    
 
I freed them.
I told them not to.
In fact, I told them never to.
Especially if they KNEW they couldn’t handle it.
 
This pain – the pain that we feel collectively, is real. It pierces. It wounds. It lingers. It lingers! Exclamation intended. It cuts deep. There is healing for this pain. The problem with that healing is that it most often comes from the same place of our pain. That isn’t just ridiculous, it’s dangerous. So, be cognizant. Everyone may not be like you. They may not have a tribe. A tribe of love and conversation needed to help them unpack the visuals of what is still a harsh truth in this country most of us pledge allegiance to.  We have to understand that it is okay for people to be in different places.  Culturally, that needs to be acceptable, despite the fact that it’s wildly unpopular to combat a trending series with ‘no, I’m not watching.’ Game of Thrones taught us that. 
I write this after concluding Part II. I, in so many ways, can’t help but feel a bit numb. I had been wrestling internally with whether or not I would watch since I heard about Ava making the film. The trailer was triggering. When it released last week, I deliberately avoided watching for fear that I’d unravel at some point over the weekend–a weekend in which I had planned to disconnect. I went across the country to catch up with some old friends and got a chance to see the living legend Anita Baker. I silenced my alerts and social media. I was not ready. I did not engage. I did not respond. I …wasn’t ready.

As my weekend came to an end, I thought it apropos to discuss the series with my west coast bros. At the mention, one of them-almost before the words could come out of my mouth-exerted a strong NO. I paused, because I already knew. He exclaimed that it wasn’t the cliche ‘I’m tired of seeing these stories about us when everything is still the same’ but the ‘I don’t want to take myself to that head space. I have to see these people at work tomorrow…’ Damn.
 
How real is that? How real is it that we share our stories and experiences over and over? We share them in safe spaces. We share them with our non-black ‘friends’. We share them in our ‘multi-cultural’ churches. We share them with our politicians. We share them without prompting. We share them with prompting. We share them through pain. We share. Nothing changes. Nothing fucking changes. But we share.
 
When They See Us is us sharing, yet again. My hope and desire is that we support this work, as it shines light on many disparities that have been detrimental to our community for decades. This detriment – specifically for the black community – is unacceptable, but it is the life that we know. If you can watch it, share it (hopefully with those of a different hue) and breathe, do so.
 
If you can’t, don’t. Don’t feel judged. Don’t feel bad.
 
You deserve.
We deserve.
Momma Dee was on to something when she said, I deserve.
Because, I do.
When They See Us is now streaming on Netflix. 

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Alex Haynes is Editor-At-Large/NYC Editor at Urban Newsroom, Executive Editor at UNR's Black News Alerts and the host of Unmuted Nation on BossFM. Alex joined Urban Newsroom in 2010 and contributes regular op-ed and editorial pieces while advising the columnist and contributing staff.

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