David: The sensationalization of Black pain must come to an end

Loretta David, Columnist

Content warning: this story contains mentions of anti-Black violence.

Early Tuesday morning, Kirshnik Ball, known as Takeoff of the Atlanta rap trio Migos, was shot and killed. His untimely death was a shock to the hip-hop community. Though he was the quietest member of the trio, Ball’s cadence and lyricism set him apart from partners Offset and Quavo.

Migos first burst into the rap game with their 2013 hit “Versace.” From there, the group was unstoppable. In just a few years, the trio released several chart-topping records including “Stir Fry,” “Walk It Talk It,” “T-Shirt,” “MotorSport,” “Pure Water,” and their most recognizable  single, “Bad and Boujee.” Migos played a pivotal role in revamping the Atlanta hip-hop scene, arguably paving the way for a slew of Atlanta rappers like Lil Baby, 21 Savage, and Lil Yachty. Apart from revitalizing Atlanta rap culture, the members of Migos set themselves apart from other rappers with their eccentric adlibs and triplet flow. 

As a member of such an influential group, one would expect Ball’s untimely death to prompt conversations about his legacy. Instead, the media has sensationalized his death and used it for clickbait. Moments after news broke of Ball’s death, TMZ posted a graphic video showing the slain rapper’s body on the floor. Several close-up photos of his body began to circulate on Twitter. The chilling audio of Quavo screaming for his music partner, his nephew, went viral on Instagram.

The phenomenon of exploiting Black pain and death for profit is nothing new. In this age of social media and tabloids, Black people are often stripped of their personhood, achievements and legacy. We are reduced to a statistic. We as a society have become so desensitized to Black pain that tabloids think it is acceptable to post videos of a dead Black man lying on the floor. We are so accustomed to seeing Black people become victims of violence that we don’t even hesitate when we see Black people being harmed.

If you pay close attention to the rap game, you’ll begin to notice a trend. So many stars — PnB Rock, Nipsey Hussle, Young Dolph, among several more — have been lost to senseless gun violence. In recent years, the untimely death of Black male rappers has become so normalized that it’s not a matter of who, but when.

The sensationalization of Black death doesn’t stop at rappers. In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant sued the Los Angeles Police Department for taking and sharing pictures of her late husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant. The lawsuit alleged that employees of the LAPD bragged about the gruesome photos to strangers at a bar and other public settings. Using the photos of a deceased Black person as social currency is not only a gross violation of privacy, it is a disservice to Black people across America.

The lack of sensitivity to Black pain further extends to those who are victims of police brutality.  I can’t count how many times I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered on TV. The full video of convicted killer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck has hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Videos similar to Floyd’s, such as those of Philando Castile and Daunte Wright, are far too easily accessible through a quick Google search.

Our desensitization to Black pain is an alarming trend. Images of Black people are constantly being used by the media as a way to bolster their brands while stripping Black people of their humanity. There is no respect for the deceased, nor for their families. Black people deserve the right to grieve privately and remember their loved ones for who they were: brothers, fathers, friends, and more importantly people with feelings, lived experiences and ambitions.

Loretta David is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.