5 Upsetting Moments That Make ‘When They See Us’ A Difficult, But Important, Watch
Facing the harsh truths shared in Netflix's latest mini series.
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For those of us that were able to finish Ava DuVernay's latest masterpiece, When They See Us, it was no easy feat. I was left wondering why the time old tale of “them” doing “us” wrong still shock us and bring us to emotional depths we didn’t even know existed. It’s probably because we can relate to these people. We think they could be our best friend, mother, sibling, father and ourselves. While there were lots of upsetting moments for me, I’m going to start by trying to unload five of them.
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1. We expect “them” to do us dirty, but not our own.
For me, one of the hardest things to watch was Korey move further upstate on a transfer, where he was literally hanging on for his life, and moved again further from his momma.
What made matters worse is, when he arrived, the corrections officer, a brother, orchestrated the attacks and made an effort to break him. This is a reminder to us all that this violent culture of prison guards goes beyond race. It’s about control and shredding every last piece of dignity because they can and they see inmates as less than.
2. We are in the age of #BlackBoyJoy and don’t want to see it destroyed.
I know and adore #BlackBoyJoy, but When They See Us shows us a brief moment of young Black boys living their best life and then gut-wrenchingly destroys it.
How did they go from hanging out to being painted into rapists who were out “wilding?” Let’s not even get into how that term was turned upside down. As a matter of fact, I think Black Twitter needs to make that a thing. Images of us just casually hanging out and then #wilding.
Back to my point, we see #BlackBoyJoy being crushed and then we only see brown and Black people trying to protect them.
We’d like to think, damn, the early '90s was messed up, but instead, this is a reminder that not much has changed. We know it all too well from kids like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and the many others.
The annihilation of joy with our youth seriously leaves us wondering: When will young Black kids be able to live carefree lives? When will we, as adults, not have to talk to them about how to respond when certain people see us?
3. Korey’s entire damn story was upsetting.
It hurts just trying to write this. Watching him get dehumanized on the stand and brutalized in jail was not nearly as hard as watching him as a young boy (yes, a boy) and then later as a grown man cry out for his momma. It was traumatic.
It made me so uncomfortable because he was a child, and also because I don’t think we see enough of Black men breaking down and showing raw emotion.
I continued crying as I watched his mom not be able to put money on his books, and her plea with people to reach out to him. I thought I couldn’t breathe when she looked at him like she knew all of the pain he was in, but couldn’t help him. I’m not even a parent, but I felt every ounce of her pain in my body.
His story brought many a needed tear to grown men’s eyes. While hard to watch, and I’ll never watch it again, his story will hopefully help and inspire us all to positively deal with our own pain and continue to fight for ourselves.
4. The harsh reality that the system is not made to rehabilitate you.
For me, watching Raymond’s story was equally as hard as Korey’s story. The thing that had me all the way f**ked up is, he wouldn’t have had to hustle if he didn’t get caught up in this BS in the first place.
We watched him try to do things the right way, but ultimately he faced the harsh rejection that most convicted felons face. We all saw where that quick money was going to land him, but I'm sure he knew that, too.
This leaves us confronting the ugly truth that prison is not about rehabilitating and preparing people to lead productive lives on the outside. For convicts, it’s about getting out and trying to survive. For the system, it’s about filling the pipeline and keeping the revolving door moving.
5. One Name: Linda Fairstein
This was the one that got us all fired up. She f**ked up on so many levels, and yes, I was shocked that she couldn’t accept she was wrong and didn’t apologize.
The internet is right for trying to cancel her. But she needs more, just like she demanded they be held accountable for their alleged actions. Justice needs to be served.
Aside from that, I can’t believe she made her fortune off of writing crime novels. Her and the detectives manipulated and coerced these boys’ confessions. They had not one shred of evidence, but it’s like they knew they could count on lies, threats and assumptions.
They assumed poor families living in “these” neighborhoods wouldn’t know their rights. When they saw those boys, they saw wild criminals.
Unfortunately we like to think these are tactics of the past, but we must remain vigilant because we will always be underestimated and they will continue to make assumptions about us. It’s the truth, and it hurts that in 2019 this is very much still our reality.