Stop Asking Black Women For Trauma Porn

Why are people obsessed with Black women’s pain? Our gut wrenching stories are plastered all over the internet for anyone to take in, sometimes with our input, and sometimes without (in the instance that the woman discussed is no longer alive). Money machines behind media have caught wind of the fact that we want representation of Black female life, but unfortunately, they think that means readers want to exclusively feast their eyes on the happenings that have mauled our well being. The strongblackwoman stereotype is partially to blame – after briefly gurgling the boiling acid of what living Black women have endured, readers can spit it out and wipe their brow, knowing that a strongblackwoman made it through.

Dangling an opportunity, whether it be access to a scholarship, a job, or a freelance byline, over the head of a Black woman and only offering it up once a measuring cup is filled with their agony, despair, and tales of poorness, is evil. This phenomenon is accurately referred to as “trauma porn”. Writer Alisa Zipursky describes trauma porn as “the [exploitative] sharing of the darkest, creepiest, most jarring parts of our trauma specifically for the purpose of shocking others. It can be engaging for some non-survivors because of the shock value, but is not only unhelpful to survivors, but often actually harmful to us because it can trigger our PTSD.”

“How dare a Black woman try to relay her own joy to the masses?”

Over the summer, a popular site reached out to me and asked if I would like to write for them. The pay was cute, and I was doing a ton of writing anyways, so I said yes. I pitched a piece about how I had grown as a human since discovering that I was to become a mother. The activities that filled my heart with joy would also be included. Of course, I mentioned the initial turmoil that came with being pregnant, but I didn’t plan on dwelling on that pain. I thought to myself “how exciting  – I’m getting paid well to discuss my happiness and show others how to obtain their own.”.

It was too good to good to be true, the pitch was denied.

Not only was my idea turned down, the editor asked if I would focus more on the tumult. How dare a Black woman try to relay her own joy to the masses? He let me know that the site would probably be much more open to a story about triumph. What that meant is they wanted all of the dark, swelling, cold details of the trauma that came with the beginning of my pregnancy. Had they really given a damn about my work (instead of sliding in my inbox and requesting that I plunge my fist into my yet-healing injury for clicks), they would have known that I discussed those very details multiple times in other pieces. I was upset because I was being asked to dig deep, as a pregnant woman, and tap into past events that had threatened my essence. On second thought, the payment was not nearly enough.

Yes, there was the perfunctory “If you feel comfortable.”. It was immediately obvious that it wasn’t a sincere extension, only a mandatory mention that would make me feel as if I was cared for. “If you feel comfortable!” is only comparable to a “No worries!” – which in this case the official slogan of white editors who don’t have the emotional bandwidth to speak at length about what you may be feeling, because they’re busy emailing the next Black woman and asking her to open her soul about hair, bullying, and rejection for retweets, too.

I wonder how people feel when they read 1000 word pieces all about lost loved ones, sexual abuse, or general cruelty towards Black women? Is it like a play in their eyes? (“I clapped for your encore! One round of unstitched gashes simply was not enough! Please rush back onto the stage of performative care and bleed endlessly for a vast audience, equipped with sharpened fangs, for more! Bravo.”) Instead of a personal series of events that was never intended to entertain, but instead heal the victim? I wonder what editors think when they ask me to go deeper and darker. I wonder how people close to me feel when they read work written for purposes other than emotional release.

In an Instagram post, writer and Doctoral researcher Kristen Cochrane air-horned all of the editors who contribute to trauma porn on a consistent basis. “If [WOC] want to talk about their pain, let them. But if they are pitching to you about subjects that aren’t related to the current fetishization and objectification of women and PoC trauma and pain (to then pay $50-$150 dollars to them, or the people who can afford to take this terrible, exploitative fee—which is exploitative when it comes from a publisher that is corporate, not grassroots), consider that a lot of people are complaining about this but are too scared to say anything (and editors aren’t listening because they have been co-opted into the capitalist, patriarchal publishing model which currently salivates over the idea of trauma).”

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Dear editors at “empowered” women’s magazines who still contribute to negative discourse on marginalized people and who often have questionable politics behind the facade—consider hiring women of colour to talk about things other than their pain. If they want to talk about their pain, let them. But if they are pitching to you about subjects that aren’t related to the current fetishization and objectification of women and PoC trauma and pain (to then pay $50-$150 dollars to them, or the people who can afford to take this terrible, exploitative fee—which is exploitative when it comes from a publisher that is corporate, not grassroots), consider that a lot of people are complaining about this but are too scared to say anything (and editors aren’t listening because they have been co-opted into the capitalist, patriarchal publishing model which currently salivates over the idea of trauma). I have been writing for @karleyslutever for over three years when I have the time because she has given me editorial freedom, unlike the magazines that have asked me to write for them and only talk about my pain (and they always contact me because they like my Slutever work—but I have made a personal vow to never send them what I pitch to Karley). When I didn’t have any kind of clout to my name, Karley accepted my pitches and spent time gracefully teaching me the things I didn’t know). I can only imagine how much worse it is for women of colour in this industry, and for people who can’t afford to write for what ends up being less than minimum wage. Thank you for reading.

A post shared by Kristen Cochrane (@ripannanicolesmith) on

I am more than my dark moments, as are all the Black women I know. When you only ask us to speak on moments of injustice and personal pain, you drill the idea that that is all we’re good for. Sometimes we do want to be free to speak about trauma, but usually when we ask to. Not when we’re only contacted for the sake of reopening wounds for public dissection or trying to get a job. Be the change in a nation that seems to run on our labor, much of which is difficult. Be aware that Black women want to talk about the times that make us dance with glee – like when we’ve curled up with a good book, listened to new music from our faves, or eaten something delectable. Our passion is resonant. Let it ring.