Who knew little black squares could be so polarizing?
On Tuesday, many posted a simple black square and the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday on Instagram along with captions that expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The hashtag campaign ― which was soon taken up by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Fabletics to your mom ― was inspired by #theshowmustbepaused initiative, a campaign started by music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang.
That campaign was meant to encourage folks in the music industry to use the day to “take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.”
The problem was, when people started posting their black boxes, they included hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #BLM; when you clicked either tag, the black squares drowned out all the useful information on ongoing protests and commentary from Black voices on those pages.
Though the posts may have been well-intentioned, activists begged people to take down their posts ― or at the very least, delete the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag ― and instead encourage folks to donate to the bail funds that have been established in almost every city where protesters have been arrested.
Many considered the posts peak performative allyship, where someone does the bare minimum of posting about a trending political issue on their social media while never really getting involved in community efforts to change the system.
“This is what performative allyship does,” L.L. McKinney, a writer and Black woman, wrote above a screenshot of the accumulating black squares. “This is what happens when you’re not really plugged in. When you use Black pain and a Black movement as a photo op. When you don’t actually care. You’re erasing us.”
Clearly, this was a teachable moment. With #BlackoutTuesday still fresh in our minds, we look at six kinds of posts that aren’t helpful and six posts that are.
What is helpful
Posts that educate your friends and family about what it means to be an ally.
There are a lot of technical terms going around lately that might trip up your slightly less political friends. Hey, maybe you’re kind of confused, too.
What’s “performative allyship” or “optical allyship,” for instance? That means support that “only serves at the surface level to platform the ‘ally,’” according to activist and writer Latham Thomas. “It makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems.”
It’s a helpful term because it can be applied to so many social justice battles; for instance, it’s purely performative to post a cool quote card for Pride month (or heading to a Pride parade) without ever getting involved in the issues the gay community are fighting for or without voting for candidates who openly fight for queer and transgender rights.
When you see a post that’s educational and helpful in these times ― whether it’s about performative allyship, covert racism or a post talking about addressing racism with kids of all ages ― share the wealth and repost that.
Posts encouraging donations to support Black lives and protesters
Money talks more than your social media post ever can. As a non-Black person, one of the most important things you can do if you’re not out there on the frontlines of the protests is to make donations. Diversify your donations: There are bail funds in nearly every city that’s seen protests. (There are several comprehensive bail fund directories online, which are being updated regularly.) Donate and post about it.
Join the many who’ve chipped into the Official George Floyd Memorial Fund that was created on GoFundMe to support the Floyd family. Donate and post about it.
Money a little tight right now? Here’s a way to donate without actually spending money.
Posts where you pass the mic to a person of color.
Over the weekend, actor and popular internet personality Leslie Jordan did something really thoughtful on his Instagram page, where he has over 4.6 millIon followers: He handed over his account to community organizer Deesha Dyer and let her educate people about systematic racism and her personal experiences.
“I am passing the microphone to a more meaningful voice than mine right now,” he said.
It was a lovely act of allyship. If you’re a regular person with a more modest following, you can similarly “pass the mic” by retweeting and sharing the words and work of activists who are speaking out and trying to disseminate information about the protests.
“You want the voices of those that are in the know to be the loudest rather than trying to speak on something you may not know much about or speak over the community you claim to want to help,“ said Mina Reads, an activist and the creator of a popular book YouTube channel. “Share, share, share (and fact check).”
Posts that offer alternatives to our current police system
This moment has opened many people’s eyes not only to police violence ― getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young Black men in America ― but how lopsided our city budgets are in favor of police forces that are failing to built trust with the communities they’re meant to protect and serve.
When you read about solutions to over-policing, post about them on Instagram. When you find groups that are trying to reform our police departments, post about them, too. For instance, Campaign Zero is a police reform group that focuses on limiting police interventions, improving community interactions and ensuring accountability.
Posts you’re prepared to go to bat for when some of your family and friends take issue with the message
These are uncomfortable conversations we’re finally having. If you’re sharing posts as you educate yourself, you might get some pushback from certain members of your family or friends. Be willing to engage with them. They might take issue with your position of “privilege.” Explain how you’ve personally benefited from an unjust society.
They may say, “But don’t all lives matter?” in the comments. Set them straight: There is absolutely nothing in the BLM statement that insinuates other lives don’t matter. Of course all lives matter, but as this moment shows, collectively, we need to do a much better job of protecting the Black lives in our community.
Be ready to defend your messages and demands, because this is a worthy fight. (Also, by educating your non-Black friends, you’re giving their Black co-workers and neighbors a break. They shouldn’t have to explain why Black lives matter while making small talk, on top of everything else that’s going on.)
That said, have a zero tolerance policy on any racist comments people add under your posts, said Tiera Rainey, an activist at the Tucson Second Chance Community Bail Fund.
“Amplify and share the posts from the Black community ― Black women in particular,” she said. “But then ensure that you don’t tolerate followers or comments that espouse anti-Black racism, sexism or any other -ism.”
Posts tailored to educate a minority community you’re part of
If English is the second language of many of the people who follow you, consider sharing a post on your story that explains what’s going on right now in your followers’ first language. The nonprofit Send Chinatown Love created two posts to that end ― one that tells the story of what happened in Minneapolis in Korean and Chinese ― and another post that translates words like privileged, marginalized and social justice.
What’s not helpful
A post decrying the looting (and nothing else)
Was the looting the first thing that motivated you to post about what’s going on right now? That’s not a good look. If you claim to mourn the police killing of George Floyd while simultaneously showing more outrage for the loss of material things, then you are not an ally, said Deneisha Franklin, a digital analyst and the co-founder of an organization called Black Tech Columbus.
“You’ve failed to understand the significance of what is happening in the world right now,” she said in a viral Facebook post. “Why aren’t you this openly outraged when white people riot for winning or losing a sporting event? Does it suck? Yes, but we will recover. Innocent people dying sucks more.”
A video of a cop hugging a protester (and nothing else)
Yes, we get that not all cops are bad cops. You can’t paint any one group with such a broad brush; people are nuanced. But if you’re posting something to that effect ― or a video of a cop shaking hands with a protester ― and absolutely nothing else, you’re sending a very clear message to your Black friends.
“One last thing I’d ask is for people to share less cop propaganda,” Mina Reads said. “If you see videos or images of cops doing a nice thing, do not share and say, ‘We need more of this.’” She added that protesters have alleged that some police have been doing this for a photo-op before escalating the situation.
A post showing violence against black bodies
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, many posted the almost nine-minute video showing Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinning Floyd’s head to the ground with his knee and ultimately killing him. (Most social media sites, including Twitter and Instagram, put a “sensitive content” notification over posts like this.)
Maybe you were among them and thought, “I have to bring attention to what’s happening in our country” and threw it up on your Instagram story.
While it’s true we need to talk about these individual acts of police brutality, many Black people and their allies urge others to reconsider recirculating videos like the ones showing Floyd being killed. For Black Americans, seeing a play-by-play of another senseless death of a Black person at the hands of the police is incredibly traumatizing.
“The fact that the [Floyd tape] is being looped casually, almost like a sports highlight, is very disturbing,” said Allissa V. Richardson, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism who called for limiting the use of such video.
Many have equated them to a modern-day lynching postcard. (In the late 1800s and early 1900s, people bought and shared photo “souvenirs” showing mostly African Americans strung up as crowds of whites watched.)
“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing now is that the abundance of these videos kind of function as black snuff films … and there are many factions on the internet that use them to create memes that are harmful,” Richardson told City News Service.
She cited the example of “Trayvoning”: teens posing in imitation of Trayvon Martin’s dead body, with Skittles, iced tea and a hoodie as props. (There have been photos circulating on social media that appear to show white teenagers re-creating Floyd’s death as well.)
Because of how loaded the videos can be, Richardson said, they need to be treated “with solemn reserve and careful circulation.”
A post where you wax poetic about how upset you are about what’s happening in the country that doesn’t mention Black people once
Yes, we all want peace and unity again. But a hunky-dory “Where Is the Love?”-style post where you go on and on about the need for less hate and never once mention the words “Black,” “police brutality” or say George Floyd’s name, is ultimately empty air. (Ellen DeGeneres was recently accused of doing this.)
A post for a hashtag campaign with unknown origin
Let’s use our black square oopsie as a teachable moment: The majority of these social media campaigns are well-intentioned, if a little vacuous. But as Blackout Tuesday showed, sometimes you’re doing more harm than good. It pays to be reflective about what you’re posting. Do a little research before throwing up a quote card.
“I told folks to not post the Blackout Tuesday thing yesterday because I couldn’t find out who started it and what the clear goal was,” said Andrea Hudson, the director of North Carolina Community Bail Fund of Durham. “With that one in particular, if we only have social media outlets to get information out to people as well as receive, why would we block it out for the day?”
Bottom line: It always pays to be reflective about what you’re posting. Be your own fact-checker.
Posts where you quote MLK to tone-police this wave of protesters
A lot of folks have used Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to respond to what’s happening now. A meme went viral featuring a photo of King, Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy and other civil rights marchers with the caption “This Is a Protest” atop a photo of looting in Minneapolis, reading, “This Is a Crime.”
At best, posting the meme comes across as intellectually lazy. (As we mentioned above about police, you can’t paint any one group with a broad brush. To focus only on the looting is a slap in the face to the peaceful protesters out there who are fed up and pushing for social change.) At worst, it comes off as you trying to silence Black protesters.
“It’s easy to find the same couple of quotes that cite peaceful protest, but I don’t see those same people using the quotes where he essentially acknowledges that the peaceful protesting was not working, shortly after which he was murdered,” Franklin said. “He did not partake in violence himself, but before you post, don’t forget: the civil rights movement was not a time of peace.”