If your first instinct upon waking up is checking your phone for any notifications, it’s likely that you opened Instagram to a wave of black squares in rapid succession. The posts are ostensibly meant to support Blackout Tuesday, and as a form of solidarity with Black Lives Matter activists, who are demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and other Black people who were killed by police. Activists are also encouraging white and other non-Black people especially to interrogate personally-held biases and the systemic anti-Black racism that pervades the country, and asking everyone to hold each other accountable to tangible change.
Many people are posting the square as a form of allyship — but in doing so, they may be obscuring vital information that organizers and activists need. Here’s what you need to know about Blackout Tuesday, and how to participate without coopting or erasing the movement.
What is Blackout Tuesday?
The day began as #TheShowMustBePaused, which was a call for the music industry to use the day as a moment of reflection for the majority of the ways white executives have profited off of Black artists for decades. As creators Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang explained on the initiative’s website, the day should be used “in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard. We will not continue to conduct business as usual without regard for Black lives.”
The website provides action steps for Black people affected by the news, and non-Black people looking to step up and do better. They suggest donating to fundraisers supporting Floyd’s family and the family of Ahmaud Arbery, as well as showing support for Taylor’s family. The music executives also recommend donating to bail funds and immersing yourself in anti-racism resources, if you’re looking to understand and do more. They did not ask people to post black squares or co-opt the Black Lives Matter hashtag.
So where did the squares come from?
It’s not clear, though the intent seems to stem from an honest desire to make space for Black people, who have been using their voices for years but whom the broader media has often drowned out. Consider it a symbolic blackout: In which the point was originally for brands and allies not to post anything other than resources for Black people and Black Lives Matter activists.
As J’na Jefferson wrote, that means “those who are participating are encouraged to take their social media crusades and interest in the movement even further, by posting links to resources that people will be able to go to in order to get more information about how they can help the Black community. They are also being asked not to buy or sell anything in order to display economic fortitude and restraint.”
Should I post a black square in solidarity?
There are definitely better ways to make your support heard than doing so. For starters, donate to both national and local organizations that have been working for years to fight racism and anti-Blackness, many of which do so by providing resources to those most affected by structural inequalities like homelessness and voter disenfranchisement. You can Google for organizations in your area — often, the most impactful work starts in your neighborhood.
You can also support Black artists and authors by supporting their work, and committing to shopping from Black-owned businesses and ordering from Black-owned restaurants. There are plenty of anti-racist books for both you and your kids, but don’t limit your support there. Buying books by Black authors all the time shows the publishing industry, which is notoriously white, that these books are vital and deserve support.
You can also amplify the voices of Black people, including activists. It’s crucial that white and other non-Black people take the time right now to listen rather than to use up space, and apply that knowledge to their actions going forward.
If you still want to post a black square, be sure not to use the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter as vital information about on-the-ground organizing is currently being drowned out in favor of the black tiles. That effectively silences years of crucial work, given that the Black Lives Matter goes back to 2013. They’re not new to this and are rightfully leery of people who think the work ends once you post and log off.
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