Stomping the Yard

When Violence Goes Viral

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With over 5 million hits in less than about a week’s time, it seems that the public has a humongous appetite to see the YouTube video of the guy on the New York subway who “smacks the soul out” of a woman on the F train, after she and her friends insult and then hit him with a stiletto boot and a purse.

It seems much of the debate about this video, especially in social media, has been largely focused on who’s to blame: the 6’6 former pro baseball prospect for retaliating, or the young woman who relentlessly taunted and assaulted him?

As community members, why are we not asking what can we do to determine the problem that leads to this behavior and stop it?  Are we just as bad as the bystanders in these videos who are cheering and filming these fights and altercations, but never intervening to avoid harm?

As a mentor who’s worked with more than 1,000 African-American girls, I feel it’s my responsibility to step off the sidelines of being a bystander and provide insight on what may possibly predispose these young women to demonstrate the violent behavior we’ve seen in these viral videos.

So much attention has been given to the crisis of low-income, urban Black boys; however, the effect this crisis has had on adolescent Black girls who live in the same neighborhoods has been largely unaddressed.

Girls are witnessing and experiencing the same violence in their schools, neighborhoods, and homes as boys are. As a means for survival, girls have adopted a “street code” to protect their reputation and retaliate when they believe their reputation is threatened. Sadly, we’ve all witnessed how many young women are only equipped to use fighting and aggression as the primary means to protect their personal respect and security, as well as to gain status.

Some research has even referred this exposure to violence and trauma at such a young age as a form of childhood post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and unfortunately, much of this trauma goes unaddressed.  In my work, I’ve personally had girls as young as 8 years old say things like, “I have anger management issues,” or “I’m bipolar,” and wearing it proudly like a badge of Black womanhood.

Unfortunately, their homes provide no refuge. Pop culture uses TV, videos, and music to bombard them with a barrage of imagery that frequently portrays Black women as loud, obnoxious, aggressive, promiscuous, and innately prone to bad relationships with other women.

Current research shows that school isn’t a safe haven either: school suspensions were greatest for middle school Black girls then followed by Black males.  And, African American girls continue to be disproportionately over-represented among girls in confinement and court-ordered residential placements. They are also significantly over-represented among girls who experience exclusionary discipline, such as out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and other punishment.

So what do we do as community members, parents, and college students to move our concern, and activism beyond the constructs of social media? Here’s a few suggestions:

Mentor/volunteer:  Don’t take my word for it. The best way to observe and learn about the challenges youth, and especially Black girls, is to connect with them directly by volunteering and mentoring in schools, or community organizations. You’ll have a chance to talk with kids and be guided by educators and youth professionals who can help you understand the experiences of the kids and their families in our communities. Perhaps this level of involvement will provide insight, understanding, and make us all a little slower to judge without context. Plus, your mere presence and involvement demonstrates to young people new ways of being, life choices, the importance of respecting others, and alternatives to violent reactions.

Create dialogue on Black male/female relations: The heart of a lot debate and discussions seems to hint at a breakdown in the relationships between Black men and women. Consider holding forums and discussions in your community and campus to talk about male and female relations in our community, because of looming challenges in communication, expectations, and almost a lack of trust between the genders in the African-American community. A forum can open dialogue and provide the platform to identify challenges, and present opportunities to take action in your personal relationships

Advocate: Now that you are mentoring or volunteering in your community, you have an improved understanding of what the needs are so help advocate for improvements. Parents join PTA, community members join your local school councils or governing organizations to make sure that often under resourced schools get funding or afterschool programs, mentoring programs, and adequate resources for counselors, and social workers who work to ensure youth and their families receive proper social services.

Stop sharing….stop clicking…stop just #smh: The next time you scroll on your newsfeed and encounter one of the viral videos with young Black youth behaving badly instead just sharing or comment, and #smh, perhaps put the phone down and stop being just a bystander and get involved in creating solutions and not just sharing the chaos.

About Kelly Fair

Kelly Fair

Kelly Fair is the founder of the highly successful Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program that  has served more than 700 girls, aged seven to 17 years old, to be effective communicators, and career and community conscious leaders! This work has been supported by a network of 300+ volunteers from the Chicagoland community and area businesses such as Bloomingdale’s, Microsoft, ThoughtWorks and many more. You can follow Kelly on her blog and on Twitter at @KFairtheMentor.