I first heard about the new Netflix series ‘When They See Us’ on Instagram. A few friends posted about it saying things like, ‘only on the first episode and crying already’. It intrigued me, but it didn’t make me want to watch it.
Prepare to be triggered
I knew the basics of the series – based on a true story, five young black boys who were wrongly accused of an attack on a white female in Central Park, New York. From what I have seen and heard of the American justice system, I knew this was going to be a frustrating and heart-breaking watch. So I put it off.
I’m one of those people that cries at ANYTHING, whether it’s happy or sad. But I also have a strong hatred for injustice. It’s been something in me since I was young – always exclaiming ‘THAT’S NOT FAIR’ at any opportunity. So I just knew that this series was going to trigger me in every way. However like the true millennial that I am, my FOMO got the better of me and I pressed play.
As soon as I began watching it, I felt guilty for putting off watching it in the first place. Yes I was right to guess that it would be frustrating, heartbreaking, and triggering – it really was. But as someone who will never face this kind of injustice, what right did I have to turn a blind eye?
These were real people’s stories, real life experiences, and me not watching it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Opening your eyes to injustice
William Wilberforce once said, ‘You may turn and look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.’ But in the world we now live in, where information is at our fingertips 24/7, we begin picking and choosing what we want to know based on what mood we’re in and I’ve noticed that we’ve got pretty clued up about how to avoid hearing the uncomfortable stuff altogether.
A fairer world doesn’t exist within our comfort zones. We need to hear the stories from history and the present day. We need to learn about experiences that are different from our own, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. And trust me, it WILL make you uncomfortable.
When you see yourself
When I first heard I was privileged I denied it. I was offended to hear that I benefit from an institutionally racist system. But only when we can face the reality of where we stand, can we work out what our role is within it all. And sometimes that role may be simply to listen and learn, and other times it may mean speaking up.
In one of the early episodes of When They See Us, a white policeman questions some of the case’s details. Something tells him that this isn’t right, but he’s uncomfortable to question the integrity of is fellow colleagues. So he concedes and allows the investigation to continue, instead of standing up for what he knows is right.
I wonder, what would have happened if in that moment he pursued the uncomfortable in what was a white-dominated space. He had a lot less to lose than his black colleague who was also in the room, but he settled for the sake of his own comfort.
Life outside the comfort zone
How often do we end up doing something similar? It’s easy for us to talk about issues when we get a pat on the back for it or it makes us look like a better person. But in the moment that it really matters, when you have to speak up to a friend or someone you know, it can feel like it’s too awkward. But if we want a part to play in changing the narrative, it is in our every day actions that this will happen.
‘Everyone loves the idea of justice until there is a cost. Ironically, justice is never convenient, and there is always a cost.’ – Live Justly
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