Theses Doctoral

Can I Get a Witness?—Living While Black Death is Trending

Del Sol, Lisa

It is not uncommon for graphic scenes of violence and death to infiltrate our timelinesfrom retweets, reposts, and shares. I often question how much control do we really have over the images that enter our feed? In what ways are we affected and influenced by these images? How do we relate to these images and video clips that are played and replayed before us? In what ways are these images evoking or are related to past scenes of racist violence? In what ways are these racially violent moments captured in photos and videos and shared online speaking to a Black consciousness?

This project comparatively researches and examines the relationship between past modes and methods of Black trauma curation in the past, to contemporary modes of dissemination on social media in order to argue that contemporary uses of spaces such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter serve as an extension of previous scrapbooking methods. By comparing The Emmet Till Generation and their curation of trauma via scrapbooks which were used to galvanize social movements, and impact organizing efforts of the youth, The Trayvon Generation today uses social media in a similar fashion; to bear witness, to organize, and to curate digital memorials for the dead. Witnessing is further extended and complicated on digital platforms, providing an abundance of visual evidence that has proven to be vital in leading tp prosecutions and arrests of violent state officials, and perpetrators of extrajudicial violence.

These live or recorded moments of witnessing are used not only as evidence, but to inform the public. However, we have always known that it’s always happening somewhere, even if we aren’t around to witness it. With that said, what are the effects of having the duty, and the responsibility to bear witness? Paying particular attention to Black youth, this project examines their presence and usage of social media spaces. By analyzing young Black people’s use of social media platforms in relation to Darnella Frazier’s strategic use Facebook, this project examines how Black youth and witnessing is currently driving a cultural shift in entertainment media that highlights witnessing death as a significant milestone for Black youth that marks the transition between childhood and adulthood. It is also impacting entertainment media that is not marketed towards Black people, further highlighting Black witnessing of racialized violence at the intersection of technology as both a contemporary and future issue through its inclusion in contemporary media.Witnessing for Black people is framed as being both necessary and traumatic.

This project concludes with an in depth examination of speculative media to reveal the implications of both the present and the future intersections of race relations, state violence and technology. Through analyses of interviews, image circulation and dissemination, magazine articles, social media platforms, visual and speculative media, this dissertation works to address and attempts to answer the aforementioned questions.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Hartman, Saidiya
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 16, 2022