This message is directed at my non-black POC and white community: I understand and appreciate the intention, but that viral hashtag coupled with a blank black box was a misguided attempt at showing solidarity that did more harm than good.
Blackout Tuesday was initiated by executives at the Atlantic Records record label. What began as an effort to elevate black voices through one record label’s action of pausing social media postings unless related to #blacklivesmatter, quickly spiraled out of control into an incoherent social media moment posed as demonstrating solidarity.
Anyone with access to social media knows how quickly it grew—feeds were dominated with black boxes and hundreds of millions of posts were created.
Initially, posters mistakenly used the #blacklivesmatter hashtag along with, or instead of #blackouttuesday, thus pushing content with important resources, protest updates, and news away from #blacklivesmatter searches. While there are some who have realized their mistake and are trying to remedy that by removing posts, black boxes continue to dominate feeds.
It makes sense for certain groups to participate in this trend. At my company—LexBlog, a legal publishing company—we post anywhere from 20 to 30 times across our social profiles daily to highlight stories in our blogging network. These stories cover every area of the law—patent litigation, personal injury suits, conventions and tech shows, law firm technology, product releases, and so on. In light of recent police brutality, our usual posting schedule and sharing stories about “tax court developments” or “new cloud management technology” did not seem appropriate. Our company decided to participate in #BlackOutTuesday because the absence of our typical postings might give more room for black voices.
It was an admittedly low-effort attempt at showing solidarity (and we’re currently brainstorming how to better elevate black voices)—but I support it because it removed our typical presence and created space for other stories to take prominence, rather than clog up feeds.
What I do not support is individuals jumping on this trend en mass. Black leaders and activist themselves have decried this trend and pleaded with people to stop. Oppression and injustice become systemic when we don’t listen to the people most affected. If we are trying to support black people, why are we not listening to them and following their lead?
I’ve seen a number of justifications for participating in this trend:
People think they can “balance out” the problem they created by posting resources on their instagram stories, twitter profiles, and facebook pages in addition to their original #blackouttuesday posts. You can post more, but by leaving that black square up, you are actively contributing to a massive drowning out of black voices and important resources.
I’ve also seen the argument that “showing up for any kind of solidarity is positive.”
This is incredibly false.
There are plenty of terrible, incorrect, and harmful ways to practice solidarity. Here are some examples.
Examples of Misguided Solidarity:
1) Action: Support a movement by purchasing clothing or artwork
What could the harm be in purchasing a sticker that says “#BlackLivesMatter,” or wearing a hoodie that references the movement? The answer is “a whole lot,” if you don’t do your research.
Why it could be harmful: Imagine that product is sold by a non-black POC or white person with no affiliation with #BLM and has no intention of donating profits to black-led organizations or paying black people directly. Or imagine if a company plainly stole a black person’s literature or artwork and claim it as their original product. If you purchase that product then you are directly engaging in a system that has profited from the co-optation of black movements, erasure of black people’s ideas, the theft of their intellectual property, and the theft of their deserved funds.
It’s not a hypothetical. It happens all the time. And, regardless of your intent to show solidarity, if you have not done your research and purchased that product, then it’s too late—you have done harm.
2) Action: Wearing a safety pin to show immigrant, POC, undocumented, LGBTQ and other disenfranchised individuals that you are a “safe” ally to talk to and be around.
Following Donald Trump’s presidential election win in 2016, safety pins became a symbol among white folks to quietly demonstrate their allyship to the nation’s most marginalized groups. The idea was that marginalized groups could identify allies by their pins and then talk to them. The trend originated in the UK after Brexit.
Why it was misguided: How could any type of effective allyship be done subtly or quietly? If you witness racism or prejudice—whether it’s the sexist comments made in the company meeting room or the police brutality in the streets—do you think your female coworker or that black stranger on the street will feel safer because you’re wearing a pin? That they will want to reach out to you after the incident and talk to you? The idea that wearing a pin demonstrates a commitment to fighting injustice is absolutely maddening.
If you are an ally, then you must be LOUD. You must speak your values constantly, and you must demonstrate those values through your actions, words, and money—not through cheap accessories. True allies will not hide their support for LGBTQ rights or undocumented folks at work or school and make their marginalized peers to seek them out for help. True allies will make their values known publicly wherever they are and stick up for their marginalized peers actively and proactively. If you don’t, then your “allyship” is performative and done at your convenience, instead of for the benefit of the people you supposedly want to protect.
3) Action: Show solidarity by attending a #BLM protest, but then hogging the mic.
I shouldn’t even have to explain this one. Yet, time and time again, I have seen privileged groups steal the spotlight from those who most need to have their voices elevated. I remember when I first started protesting in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2013, crowds would often gather around an organizer on a megaphone. After re-affirming the purpose of the protest, the speaker would pass the mic to the crowd to allow them to share their stories. Then, something strange would happen—a white person would leap at the opportunity to speak about their journey towards anti-racism.
The point of protest is to give a platform for unheard voices. It’s not your movement. Pass the mic to someone else.
4) Action: Asking the marginalized group how you can do better.
As a general rule of thumb:
- Men—don’t ask women how you can be less sexist
- White people and non-black POC—don’t ask black people how you can fight white supremacy
- Straight folks—don’t ask queers how to be a better champion for LGBTQ rights.
I get it. You’re learning. It may be tempting to ask those who are closest to the matter to educate you. I am telling you now: Don’t do it.
Women are exhausted. Black people are exhausted. LGBTQ people are exhausted. The marginalized groups are exhausted. They have endured enough trauma and deal with enough on their own everyday, much less add “educating you about the issues,” to their to-do list.
Don’t force the marginalized group to re-live past traumas or burden them with the emotional and mental labor that comes with educating you. Having a privileged identity means you are lucky to not be constantly aware of certain racial or societal dynamics. That means you have more energy to educate yourself with the infinite number of resources, literature, podcasts, tv shows, and organizations already available.
Why have this conversation?
My goal is not to criticize or shame anyone who participated in this hashtag, but rather to start a conversation about the correct and incorrect ways of demonstrating solidarity. The incorrect methods—like #BlackOutTuesday—exist and need to be acknowledged so they are not repeated. I know you are learning. I am also learning. We are learning together, making mistakes together, and to hold each other accountable, we need to acknowledge that there will always be room to do better and do more.
Writing this post is part of my attempt to do better and do more.
With all that said, what is the best way to support a marginalized group?
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, follow the leader. It is not the only thing you should be doing, but it is the most reliable way to start.
Look at what the leaders of the movement are doing. As stated previously, #blackouttuesday was widely criticized by black activists and leaders. In the coming months and years, as you continue to support #blacklivesmatter and other movements, it is inevitable that the public will yet again be swept up in new trends, social media hashtags, and poor practices. If your goal is to protect a group, listen more closely to what that marginalized group wants rather than what allies think they want. Question everything you see before you get swept up in it.
And delete your #blackouttuesday posts. No need to apologize. Just delete it and move forward. Let’s all move forward together.