Blackout Tuesday may hurt awareness efforts after George Floyd death, advocates say

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Blackout Tuesday is a social media movement that was originally created as an act of solidarity with activists, organizers and protesters to reflect on George Floyd protests, but advocates say misusing it could unintentionally silence Black voices.

#BlackoutTuesday involves posting a black square on a social media platform. It’s aimed at disrupting social media feeds to help people reflect on the police brutality that led to the death of Floyd, a Black man who died on May 25 pleading and gasping for air after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The worldwide protests have been met with varying degrees of police action, and while some have remained peaceful, many in the United States have resulted in hospitalizations, arrests and violence from both protesters and police officers.

According the movement’s organizers, Jamila Thomas, senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, and Brianna Agyemang, senior artist campaign manager at Platoon, “the show must be paused” in order to create space to give people a chance to pause, observe and reflect on what actions need to be taken to support the Black community.

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“The blackout movement represents an approach that social activists and civil rights movements have used for several decades. It’s really an economic boycott approach,” said Dexter Voisin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

In the past, he said systems are changed by people working together, rather than stand-alone actions. Similarly, he said Blackout Tuesday is an opportunity to “create a system in order to pressure individuals to do the right thing.”

It has garnered attention from big-name entertainment corporations and A-list celebrities, with the likes of  Rihanna and Warner Music Canada and YouTube Music posting Black squares on their social media feeds.

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Hashtag movements have a history of making a difference, Voisin said.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement started in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and has expanded into real organizations with chapters across North America.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have also evoked great change, leading to the imprisonment of Harvey Weinstein, who was found guilty of rape in the third degree and a criminal sexual act in the first degree in March.

But in order for #BlackoutTuesday to be successful, Voisin said it has to be matched with other progressive approaches.

“What’s going to change this from a moment to a movement? It’s really the combination of sustained alliances across all these sort of justice efforts,” he said.

“It has to be linked to other alliances and connected to other types of social inequalities in order to bring pressure and bring attention to policymakers, the economic drivers and to individuals who’ve been beaten by social inequality to get their attention and get their participation.”

#BlackoutTuesday was created in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. As a result, many have been using #BlackLivesMatter when posting their black squares on their social media.

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Siarrah Kane, a BLM Vancouver organizer, told Global News that while it may have been made with the best intentions, it was doing more harm than good.

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“It’s kind of become a day to just mute social media, which I think is harmful,” she said.

“I don’t think we need to go on social media and all these black squares and be silencing the voices that needs to be the loudest right now, which is ours.”

She also raised concerns that it would make it easy for people to just post a black square online and then “wash their hands of activism.”

“This is a time for Black folks to keep speaking and for people to continue to amplify our voices,” Kane said.

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Kenidra Woods, a U.S. mental health advocate who founded the Hope for Humanity Project, posted a video on Twitter that showed how hashtagging BLM cluttered up its tag page, effectively hiding critical information and resources organizers shared on their social media platforms.

“We know that’s it no intent to harm but to be frank, this essentially does harm the message,” she wrote. “PLS stop using the hashtag for black images!!”

Kathy Hogarth, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo whose work focuses on marginalized populations in Canada, echoed her statements.

“Some people are still using the hashtag BLM or Black Lives Matter when they post black squares, and that absolutely silences Black Lives Matter. That wasn’t the intention, but it is what’s happening. And that’s unfortunate,” she said.

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“This time we need all the voices at the table. Black Out Tuesday was intended to be a critical voice by silencing other voices. Inadvertently, it’s also silencing Black voices.”

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Struggle for equality: Seeking understanding amid protests and turmoil

Dr. Desirée de Jesus, a film scholar and video essayist, criticized the movement’s usefulness, and said that quite simply, “it’s just really not enough.”

“White folks and non-Black people of colour need to do a lot more than post a black tile on Instagram,” she said.

She advised participants look at the work Black racism activists are currently doing to identify what’s most important to them and take advantage of resources including books written by Black authors and films and documentaries created by Black artists.

“It’s really important that they help that work by using their access to places of power to dismantle the systems that support police misconduct and murder of unarmed citizens,” she said.

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“We’re past the peak of just raising awareness. At this stage of the game we really shouldn’t be feigning ignorance about the seriousness of what’s happening.”

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