If you’re about to post a picture of a black square to your social media with the caption #BlackLivesMatter for Blackout Tuesday, stop and read this first. Then, please don’t do it.
Blackout Tuesday is a day promoted by music industry leaders, intended to mourn George Floyd's death after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, even as Floyd pleaded for him to stop. The social media campaign has encouraged many people to post black squares on their social media, often tagging the posts with #BlackLivesMatter. George Floyd's death has ignited a series of historic protests, where police have responded with incredible violence, including tear-gassing, shooting, and harassing protesters all over the country.
The Blackout Tuesday effort was started by Black women music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, who intended to persuade the music industry to pause business operations on June 2 "in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard." However, the intent of the social media campaign has been completely overshadowed by how it's playing out in practice. Because people on social media are posting black rectangles with the hashtag using #BlackLivesMatter, which is largely otherwise used to share information and resources, critical help is getting drowned out by—quite frankly, useless—black squares.
Although the intention behind Blackout Tuesday may have been good, the result is pretty sinister: It’s pretty horrifying to check social media and see all these resources, safety tips, and connections be completely blacked out. "When you check the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, it's no longer videos, helpful information, resources, documentation of the injustice, it's rows of black screens," singer Kehlani said on her Instagram story.
Yesterday, in the White House Rose Garden, as viewers could hear the screams of protestors being brutalized by police, President Trump declared war on the American people—and Black people, more specifically—by threatening to bring out the military in response to the protests by enacting the 213-year-old Insurrection Act. This will likely result in horrific violence, even worse than what we’ve seen so far.
With that in mind, this is absolutely not the day that anyone on social media needs to go “silent” or simply post a black square. We need to be screaming at the top of our lungs about this injustice, calling our elected officials, even making international appeals for help dealing with this human rights crisis.
Considering how hard dictatorships and authoritarian governments—including our own!—try to block and control social media content about social uprisings, the fact that we’re willing to censor ourselves is beyond disturbing. For white people, who have more power and privilege, it is especially important that you not be silent today. You cannot sleep through this revolution, nor should you performatively post on social media as a way of avoiding the issue of anti-Black violence itself.
I get that you think posting a black square in solidarity is helping. But it’s not. It’s time to redirect to other courses of action. With that in mind, here are several things you can do besides side-stepping by means of this performative social media trend—and you can do these things not just today, but every day. Plenty of these options can be promoted from home across social media, as well, if you're not able to show up in person for health or immigration-status reasons.
Join a protest.
If you feel safe and healthy enough to do so—although, in times like these, it’s admittedly hard to feel safe at all—then consider actually joining protests. While it’s dangerous for everyone on the streets right now, especially after Trump has threatened to bring out the military against the protestors and the threat of COVID-19 is looming, it’s especially dangerous for Black people. In response, some white allies have shown support by becoming a barrier between Black people and the police. Connect with Black-led organizations (your local Black Lives Matter chapter is a good place to start) and find out if and how you can help on the ground, whether that’s as a protestor or perhaps a volunteer medic.
If you do join a protest, wear a mask. Bring extras for others if you can, as well as hand sanitizer, or even just soap and water. Try to keep your distance from others, and try to keep from talking or shouting too much, which causes droplets to go in the air and may contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.
Donate to bail funds or mutual aid groups.
Protestors are being arrested all over the country, and many need cash bail to be released. The National Bail Fund Network has a large directory of community bail funds to donate to, as well as a COVID-19 rapid response fund. The latter kind of aid is important to keep in mind, because sometimes bail efforts become overwhelmed with donations. Check in about that on their social media pages, and, if they are, they will often redirect you to other community mutual aid groups like these: The Philadelphia Mutual Aid Fund, The D.C. Mutual Aid Fund, and the Detroit Sex Worker Mutual Aid Fund. Here are some bail funds to look into as an introduction, too:
- Colorado Freedom Fund, an organization that posts bail for people who would not be able to afford to do so otherwise.
- Black Visions Collective, a Black, trans, and queer-led social justice organization and legal fund based in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
- Free Them All for Public Health, raising money to free incarcerated people in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic, where overcrowded jails pose a serious health risk.
- The Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which is raising bail and bond money for jailed protesters in Atlanta.
Join a mutual aid group if you can't donate to one.
Even if you can’t lend financial support, you can join mutual aid efforts directly to help distribute or donate needed supplies like groceries, medicine, hand sanitizer, etc. You can also contribute your services. Do you have a car? You can help transport goods and people to where they need to go. Do you have room in your home? You can provide sanctuary for protestors. Do you have political contacts? You can help influence change or even release jailed protestors. Do you have skills in graphic design, administration, etc.? Offer to help run operations for your community's mutual aid efforts.
Remotely provide protestors with protection against COVID-19 and tear gas.
You can donate to this Gas Mask Fund created by Black youth activists in Minneapolis to buy gas masks for demonstrators facing tear gas during the Uprising. You can also donate to Masks For America, a volunteer-led organization that has distributed 22,000 FDA-certified KN95 masks and 5,500 goggles and face shields to protestors in Minneapolis, Washington D.C., and New York City. Masks For America usually distributes protective equipment to frontline healthcare workers, but this fundraiser is going directly towards Black-led organizations on the ground.
If you find that you don’t know much about the issues, being discussed right now, learn on your own. Don't ask Black people to teach you, and take it upon yourself to share reading lists and resources to others who might be inclined to ask Black people in their lives to do that.
Talk to your racist family members about what’s going on and hold them accountable for their views.
If you’re talking about social justice online, you need to also talk about it at home. Don’t stay silent when your family members say racist things or advocate for harmful policies. Talk to them. Become the change in your own circles. If they show no signs of changing, consider their place in your life.
Call or text your elected officials.
Call your elected officials every day and tell them that you demand this violence stop, and that you demand they stand up to Trump. ResistBot is an amazing, quick way to do that. You can simply send a text that will be sent to your officials as a fax or an email. It’s free to use, but consider also making a donation to offset the service's operating costs.
Send Black protestors, journalists, healthcare professionals, and mental health professionals money.
Literally, just send Black people on the front lines money on Venmo, Paypal, or CashApp. These are the people experiencing the most trauma. If you see someone you’d like to help, ask them if it’s OK to drop some money in their account. It’s a simple thing, but, if you can afford it, do it. You could be paying for their necessities, bills, self-care needs, or a therapy session.
Convince your academic institution to divest from policing, mass incarceration, and fossil fuels.
Many academic institutions have financial connections to policing and mass incarceration. Start a divestment campaign and pressure them to withdraw from those financial entanglements. Black students and allies at Harvard University have been doing this work for a long time, and other students are beginning these campaigns during the George Floyd protests.
Whatever you choose to do: Above all, don't be silent. The space taken up by a black square could be so much more usefully filled in with tangible support of Black lives.
Follow Nylah Burton on Twitter.