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When Netflix Traumatizes You

By Kerra Bolton

Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” is a breathtaking masterpiece and searing indictment of the American criminal justice system.

The four-episode, Netflix series dramatizes the events surrounding the wrongful conviction of one Latino and four black teenage boys wrongfully convicted in 1989 of raping a white woman jogging through Central Park.

“When They See Us” is also traumatizing as hell.

Reliving the raw pain, anguish, and brutalization of the boys and their families is triggering for many black and brown people who have often felt the boot of the court system on their neck.

There have been wonderful, insightful opinion pieces by Zenobia Jeffries Warfield, Rochaun Meadows Fernandez, and Jazmine Denise about the need for all Americans to watch “When They See Us” or not, if you believe the series should be categorized under “horror” instead of “true crime.” So, I won’t rehash them here.

But when did watching Netflix require an after care program and post-traumatic stress counseling?

What Happened to Netflix and Chill?

It used to be “Netflix and Chill.”

Now it’s “watch Netflix, snot-cry, huddle in a corner, think about your life, and resolve to make the world a better place once you leave the blanket fort.”

Social justice art – movies, books, television, and visual arts – have a critical and invaluable place in a free, democratic society. We need art to shine a light on the broken places, so we know what needs our care and attention and why.

We need to feel and process the anger, despair, and pathos that works like “When They See Us” provoke because it shakes us out of complacency and galvanizes us to responsible, thoughtful action.

Joy, however, is also a form of resistance.

Cultivating joy, beauty, and wonder at a time when the presence of a black body is seen as just cause for a white person to call the police is an act of courage and faith in the better angels of our nature.

Members of marginalized groups, especially, need media, art, entertainment, and communities that affirm and support them. We need images, words, and sounds that tell us we are not crazy and the fact that we’ve made it through another day in a society that would rather we not exist is freaking amazing.

Learning to Build a Blanket Fort  

I used to scoff at the notion of Sweatpants & Coffee.

Granted, it was 2016 and suddenly “woke” white women were discussing the need for self-care after only three months of activism in the wake of the election of President Donald Trump.

“Girl bye,” I thought. “I’m not new to this. I do this. Black and other women of color don’t get a break from racism and oppression.”

But then I realized that yelling at white people as a form of activism is exhausting. Suddenly, seeking a “bastion of comfort and sanity in an uncomfortable world,” as the Sweatpants & Coffee tagline says seemed like the wisest advice since my grandmother said, “Men are like buses. There’s always another one coming.”

And anyone who knows Nanea Hoffman, founder of Sweatpants & Coffee, recognizes she’s a fierce warrior, as well as a loving and compassionate, sister-friend. Reading her thoughtful, insightful, and kind posts and articles makes me feel seen, heard, and even loved, even though we’ve never met in person.

Sweatpants & Coffee, for me, is not about running away from the world. It’s about living with and from joy within the craziness of the world.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t yet, watch “When They See Us.” It will make you want to scream, cry, and punch something. Then come over to Sweatpants & Coffee. Check out the “Good Stuff This Week,” recaps of all your favorite TV shows, and the banging “Eat and Drinks” sections. We all need to learn how to make “10 Fancy AF Cocktails for Your Next Brunch.”

I’ll be in the blanket fort with a box of Belgian chocolate and a mango margarita waiting for you.

Kerra Bolton is a political communications strategist, writer and artist. She is the founder of “Unmuted,” an online academy and consultancy that helps women build and sustain their activism. Kerra is a former television political analyst, journalist and political operative. In 2016, she gave that up to live in a small beach community in the Mexican Caribbean.

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