The Blackout Tuesday phenomenon faced a backlash last night from a series of artists and activists who called it ’embarrassing’, ‘harmful’ and ‘counterproductive’ to the George Floyd protests.
Rapper Lil Nas X and singer Kehlani were among those to raise doubts about the online trend, in which people posted plain black squares on their Instagram feed and abandoned social media for the rest of the day.
But critics accused them of missing the point after a pause in promotional posts from the music industry became a flood of black squares which drowned out ‘vital dialogue’ on racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Others said the blackout was a ‘performative trend’ which allowed people to ‘wash their hands of activism’ without taking any real action.
Blackout: Millions of people posted black squares to their Instagram feeds in a show of solidarity after George Floyd’s death, leaving the website looking like this at times
Rapper Lil Nas X, pictured winning a Grammy Award in January this year, was among the artists to raise doubts about the Blackout Tuesday movement
The blackout was the idea of Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, two black women who work in the music industry.
They described it as a moment to ‘disconnect from work and reconnect with our community’ by holding off on music industry hype to address the crisis instead.
‘It is a 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,’ they said.
Posting on Instagram yesterday, Agyemang said that ‘the purpose was never to mute ourselves’.
Nonetheless, a host of A-list celebrities did just that – turning many people’s Instagram feeds into a succession of empty squares.
Singer Kehlani, pictured in New York last year, said it was ‘kinda dangerous’ for people to abandon social media during the protests
Justin Bieber, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey and Justin Timberlake were among the long list of stars who took part in yesterday’s show of support.
The phenomenon also attracted a series of brands from Apple Music to department store Nordstrom.
Singer Kehlani, who is mixed-race, said it was ‘kinda dangerous’ for people to abandon social media in the middle of the crisis.
‘While I do appreciate the idea… don’t y’all think getting getting off our form of communicating with each other, sharing info, seeing news… for a whole day… in the middle of a war on us.. is kinda dangerous?,’ she asked.
‘When people click that hashtag, they need to see what’s going on. They need to see it harshly, vividly, accurately, in their faces,’ the Grammy-nominated singer said.
‘The messages are mixed across the board and i really hope it doesn’t have a negative effect.’
She later clarified that she supported the original idea of ‘disrupting the music industry for a day’ but criticized ‘a bunch of suits on Instagram saying Blackout Tuesday for the industry’.
Meanwhile, rapper Lil Nas X said he would have preferred people to post donation and petition links instead of empty black squares.
‘I know y’all mean well but… bro saying stop posting for a day is the worst idea ever,’ he said.
‘I just really think this is the time to push as hard as ever. I don’t think the movement has ever been this powerful,’ the Grammy winner said.
‘We don’t need to slow it down by posting nothing. We need to spread info and be as loud as ever.
Kehlani said she ‘appreciated the idea’ but feared that the blackout would shut down ‘our form of communicating with each other’ at a time of crisis
Lil Nas X said he would have preferred people to post links to petitions and ways to donate money rather than black squares
NBC host Jacque Reid said the blackout was ‘not making sense’ but instead ‘causing issues’ for people trying to share information about racial injustice.
‘It seems counterproductive,’ she said, adding that ‘the purpose for today was not just to bulk out your social and do nothing’.
British-Nigerian singer Davina Oriakhi said the blackout was ‘a bad idea’ because ‘the whole point of it is being defeated’.
‘Instead of halting self promotion to focus on the movement, the movement is now being overshadowed my black squares,’ she said.
A further issue was that some users posted their images with the more ubiquitous caption #BlackLivesMatter – turning that hashtag into a sea of black squares as well.
Demi Lovato was among those who warned against this, urging people to use the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday instead, but not everyone followed the protocol.
African-American writer Raquel Willis similarly voiced fears that the wrong hashtag ‘suppresses vital information’ about protests and injustice.
Instagram itself advised that people could edit their captions to remove the unwanted hashtag.
‘We’re hearing asks from the community that posts related to Blackout Tuesday use the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday and not #BlackLivesMatter,’ the website said.
‘The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag aggregates important information and resources for the community.’
Demi Lovato was among those who warned people not to use the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter because it would ‘drown’ that feed in a flood of black squares
Initially intended to be just for the music industry, the online gesture swept across Twitter and Instagram as anger over Floyd’s death engulfs America. Pictured are Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Aniston who both joined in the blackout
Writing in the Guardian, Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto said the black squares posted online had ‘displaced other, more vital messages’.
In an article entitled ‘As responses to George Floyd’s death go, #BlackOutTuesday was embarrassing’, Bhutto said influencers and celebrities had ‘rallied for silence’ at exactly the wrong moment.
‘Not only was this a facile attempt at armchair activism, it actively disrupted the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which protesters, reporters and activists were using to collate news about police violence against protesters,’ she said.
Some critics voiced fears that the ‘performative’ trend made it too easy for people to ‘feel like you’re doing something without requiring any sort of action at all’.
Siarrah Kane, a Black Lives Matter organiser in Vancouver, told Global News that the hashtag was an easy way for people to ‘wash their hands of activism’.
Malaysian pop star alextbh said: ‘Blackout Tuesday is supposed to be about taking time off YOUR work and AMPLIFY black voices, how did it get reduced to some ‘change your profile profile pic’ performative s***?!’.
‘It’s kind of become a day to just mute social media, which I think is harmful,’ she said.
Harry Potter star Emma Watson faced a backlash of her own after posting three black squares with the white borders that accompany all her Instagram posts
She later told fans that ‘I see your anger, sadness and pain’ and said she would post resources she had found useful on the subject.
‘There is so much racism, both in our past and present, that is not acknowledged nor accounted for,’ she said.
‘White supremacy is one of the systems of hierarchy and dominance, of exploitation and oppression, that is tightly stitched into society.
‘As a white person, I have benefited from this. Whilst we might feel that, as individuals, we’re working hard internally to be anti-racist, we need to work harder externally to actively tackle the structural and institutional racism around us.
‘I’m still learning about the many ways I unconsciously support and uphold a system that is structurally racist.’
Protests have raged for more than a week in the US after Floyd, 46, died in Minneapolis last Monday. A white police officer had pinned him down with his knee on Floyd’s head for nearly nine minutes while arresting him.
Donald Trump has called Floyd’s death a ‘tragedy’ but sparked further anger by threatening to send in US troops to quell the riots.