The #BlackOutTuesday Instagram Meme Is Silencing Black Voices

People are calling for a stop to the co-opting of the Black Lives Matter hashtag for a performative Instagram meme.
June 2, 2020, 3:45pm
​A screenshot of what users see now when searching for #BlackLivesMatter.
A screenshot of what users see now when searching for #BlackLivesMatter. Composition by Emily Lipstein

Yesterday, my Instagram feed was full of donation links, suggestions for anti-racist texts to read, videos of police brutality, and peaceful protests.

Today, a scroll shows black square after black square—mostly posted by white friends, brands, and pet influencer accounts—as part of something called "Black Out Tuesday."

#BlackOutTuesday is a viral Instagram meme where people post blank, black squares instead of their usual lifestyle posts. But as many people have pointed out on Twitter today, using the meme—especially when it's captioned with the #BlackLivesMatter or #BLM hashtag—further erases Black voices and experiences, instead of amplifying the movement. It has also made it harder to find images of protests and police brutality on Instagram.

The meme was co-opted from two Black women: Jamila Thomas, senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, and Brianna Agyemang, a former Atlantic executive and current senior artist campaign manager at Platoon. Their call to action, #TheShowMustBePaused, was meant to call out "the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard" in music.

"Our mission is to hold the industry at large, including major corporations + their partners who benefit from the efforts, struggles, and successes of Black people accountable," they wrote on their website. Several record labels' social media accounts have gone dark or posted their support in response, including some of the biggest Nashville labels like Sony, Warner Music, and Universal Music Group.

For the rest of us, Agyemang and Thomas said, "take a break—there is a lot going on and sometimes we all just need a minute," and included links for donating to the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arber, as well as resources for bail funds and more.

Nowhere in their open letter do they suggest posting black squares, but that's what a lot of people have done today—and included the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, flooding a useful social media resource with useless blanks.

Since the beginning of widespread social media use, people have used Twitter hashtags and Facebook events as tools to organize and mobilize revolutions, especially during times when mainstream media was either silenced, attacked, or unwilling to report on what was happening in real-time.

Journalists rely on civilian reporting during times of unrest—at the same time as police forces are firing projectiles at press on the ground at protests, people are in the streets documenting the scenes on their phones and posting to social media. When these are drowned out with performative memes like #BlackOutTuesday, it becomes even harder to find the real stories.

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