Is lack of action an indication of desensitization?

Alanna Sherman , Columnist

Social media has successfully increased our hunger to constantly feed our brains with new information. With just a few clicks, we can devour heaps of information within seconds. We may be learning new concepts, updating ourselves on the news or even viewing state-sanctioned violence inflicted upon human beings. We watch or read about murder, genocide, displacement, war and abuse every single day, or even possibly every hour. 

Within minutes we have absorbed so much information we did not know before, but are we actually digesting what we read and watch? Are we taking the time to fully process this information and the horrors and heartbreak it brings, and then finding ways to take action in order to prevent it from happening again? 

Education surrounding violence and oppression, whether it be in the classroom or online, is absolutely crucial in successfully dismantling structures that destroy human life. However, what matters most is what we do with that form of education. Learning and spreading awareness is powerful, but also holds the possibility of becoming redundant if we don’t take any further steps. 

Poverty porn, or trauma porn, is visual media depicting violence and poverty, which often leads to a perverse fantasy of the experience of others that dehumanizes the person behind the photo. They are meant to spark a reaction, and do, yet they often fail to encourage privileged people to take any real action. 

A 2016 study on trauma porn stated, “Violence in and of itself is dehumanizing for the victim, and when you add the level of videotaping violence, the victim goes from being subjected to violence to being an object of abuse as well as a spectacle.”

Although this type of media is both shocking and informative, it can be extremely harmful if we fail to remember that these are real people experiencing violence in real time.

If we are actually processing what we are learning and seeing, wouldn’t that mean we would be doing something about it? I don’t think we are truly taking the time to sit with what we consume if it isn’t encouraging us to take action. 

It is necessary to educate ourselves about systemic racism and the violence it produces, but what exactly are we doing to dismantle it, even at Whitman? Are white students attempting to have conversations with people in power? Are we joining or starting clubs and organizing to address oppressive systems in place at this institution? Are we uplifting affinity groups and finding ways to ensure their needs are being met? These questions are rhetorical because if we were truly taking action, they would not need to be asked. 

Many of us are aware of how many people are forced into poverty and are losing their lives because of these systems. Are we finding ways to ensure people are being fed, clothed and housed? Are we joining organizations working to reduce food insecurity and homelessness? 

After learning about the violent policies against the transgender community, not only in Texas but in places across the world, are we uplifting and redistributing our wealth to grassroots organizations such as Equality Texas, Brave Space Alliance, For the Gworls and others? Are we being loud with our demands to allow trans children to become trans adults without experiencing trauma? 

After attending Power and Privilege Symposium sessions such as “Beyond the Iron Wall: Palestine and Three Dimensional Occupation in the 21st Century,” are we joining Whitman Students for Justice in Palestine and donating or joining the STAR Project from “Forgotten Felons: Norms of Exclusion in Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity”? How are we supporting businesses led by students at Whitman such as Green Venture Tanzania from “Social Movements, Entrepreneurship & Mental Health in BIPOC Communities”? 

These actions may not completely dismantle oppressive structures but they can make a much larger impact than doing nothing at all. Finding ways to distribute food for those who do not have access could quite literally save a life or more. There is much more to be done to permanently end violent oppression, but we will not get there if we desensitize ourselves to the point of acting as if violence doesn’t occur.