#blackouttuesday: Black Lives Matter and Performative Activism
You open your Instagram feed and scroll, just to see post after post of a black screen, with the #blackouttuesday. You’re confused at first, but after some more thumb-flicking you come upon posts which explain to you this new trend. You then proceed to upload your own blank post using this same hashtag.
On June 2nd, 2020, million Instagram users did just the same as you. Black Out Tuesday originated within the music industry, encouraging businesses to take a break from releasing music and other business operations in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. It soon grew into a collective action in which allies of the Black Lives Matter Movement would post a black screen with the hashtag #blackouttuesday to show their support for the fight against racism and police brutality. This seems like a good thing, so what’s the issue?
For one, this trend was only supposed to be accompanied by one hashtag: blackouttuesday. As the hashtag grew in size, this guideline faded away, and many began adding #blm and #blacklivesmatter to join the previously lone tag. Seemingly harmless, the posts now buried crucial resources found under #blm and #blacklivesmatter- including and not limited to information regarding anti-racist self education, donation sites, and petition links-under an endless sea of black screens. The blackout cut off easy access to these resources- a consequence unforeseen and unintended.
In conjunction with this, many who posted this day took the day off from posting anything else. The intention of the blackout was not to go void of posting, but to to disrupt ‘regular’ posts, and instead encourage all participants to use their social media platforms to amplify black voices, share information regarding the Black Lives Matter Movement, and spend their day taking action to educate themselves and propel the movement. While many did do this, millions of others fell short of such.
Adding fuel to the fire, as the blackout grew in size, it seemed that more and more people were simply posting because “everyone else was”, and not adhering to the plans the blackout had originally set. This led to the increasing popularity and discussion on the concept of “performative activism”.
Performative activism is activism that is done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of devotion to a cause. An example of which is participating in trending culture without taking action, and not backing up your social media activism in real life. Blackout Tuesday helped to shed light on this issue. The hashtag had 22 million posts, yet the petition demanding justice for George Floyd’s death was shy of just half that number, only nearing 11 million signatures. This staggering difference suggests many who participated in blackout tuesday were not taking real action. A hashtag trends on average for 45 minutes, 2 days at the most. But this movement needs much more than that short amount of attention. Partaking in “trends” such as Blackout Tuesday and posting on social media without taking any further action is a surface-level attempt at activism, one of which will have no lasting impact.
So, how do you make sure you are being an engaged activist for racial justice and not a performative one?
Sharing posts and infographics related to police brutality, racial injustice, and discrimintation is a great place to start. But this is not where you should stop. Think about what you have done in private, the actions you have taken that have not been for others to see.
Have you signed petitions?
Have you attended protests?
Have you donated if you have the resources to do so?
Have you engaged in discussion about these topics friends, family and peers, especially those of whom have made racist remarks?
Have you made attempts to educate yourself by staying up to date on news, listening to podcasts, reading books, and watching movies regarding anti racism?
Have you amplified Black voices?
Have you checked on your Black friends?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re on the right track! If you did not, begin with some of the above.If you are unable to attend protests or donate, signing petitions, sharing resources, educating yourself, and having conversations are all costless ways to contribute from home. And if you are old enough, register and follow through to vote!
And remember, whether you are just now joining the fight for racial justice or have been here since the start, remember that it is far from over. #blackouttuesday may have been a trend, but seeking justice and the guarantee of rights for BIPOC is not.
A link to useful resources, including petitions, places to donate, and more:
Anti-Racism Educational Podcast, Book, Documentary, and Movie Recommendations:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The New Jim Crow by MIchelle Alexander
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
For more: Five Books That Help You Learn More About U.S. History Regarding Racial Relationships
The Hate u Give
When They See Us (Netflix)
Dear White People (Netflix)
I Am Not Your Negro
Explained: The Racial Wealth Gap (Netflix)
1619 (New York Times)
Code Switch (NPR)
Black Visions collective
Reclaim the Block
North Star Health Collective
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund
The Bail Project
To Follow on Instagram: