On Tuesday, I woke up and did the same thing I do every day. I grabbed my phone to check Instagram. But today it was different. Instead of the usual array of peonies, beaming selfies and golden hour Aperol spritzes that usually punctuate my morning scroll, I was met with a flood of black squares. I moved to Stories, and it was the same thing. I was witnessing a blackout, literally, from Black and non-Black people alike.
It was a unison of people saying the same thing, without using any words. Black Lives Matter - and rightly so.
In protest against racial inequality and police brutality, almost everyone participated in #BlackOutTuesday on Instagram. The movement was originally started by Jamila Thomas, senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, and Brianna Agyemang, a senior artist campaign manager at Platoon, who created the #TheShowMustBePaused hashtag for those in the music industry. The initiative then expanded to become #BlackoutTuesday, which is what we've seen today.
Upon observing the influx of black squares on Instagram, I received a message from a friend to say the movement was giving her a speck of hope. But all I could feel was: What hope? As a Black woman, these posts mean very little to me when prior actions haven't demonstrated the same kind of support.
I understand that change starts with awareness and acknowledgement, and that's likely what anyone posting the black square intends. But I can’t help but wonder why this hasn’t happened sooner. And I'm cynical that it's just another guilt-quenching social media demonstration that will be forgotten about by next week.
Racism is deeply bedded in the UK. So deep, you don't see it unless you've experienced it. As a Black woman, I've always been grateful for my seat at the table. I've been scared to talk too much; have bitten my tongue way more times than I can count to avoid drawing too much attention to myself. And let me tell you: having to tame yourself starts to take its toll after a while.
I have always felt like the elephant in the room. In the queue to a bar when the bouncer doesn't let me in. In a friend’s flat where I’m surrounded by privileged white twenty-somethings. Or on public transport where the white lady sat next to me is holding on to her bag.
The last couple of days have been surreal. It’s as if everyone has woken up from some sort of drug-induced slumber and can now see me. I’m naked – and they’re all looking at me. What do I do? What do I say?
I saw your black square, indicating that you stand by me. But no-one was there, standing by before, so it's hard to believe they'll be there after the protests stop.
For years, I’ve kept my mouth shut in fear of being labelled an angry Black woman, but there’s a sense of 'enough is enough' in the air right now. Next time you spot a Black person being discriminated against, think about that black square you posted and use your voice to speak up. When your family makes racist remarks at the dinner table, remember that black square and call them out. Support local causes. Educate yourself. Make a change.
It will be your actions that speak louder than the performative content you post online.
Change is here, but I question whether it's here to stay. When COVID-19 started, it was all anyone could talk or think about. Is this just the next trend? We've seen brands pledge allegiance to the cause, but what does that mean? If I apply for a job within your company will you hire me, or dismiss me due to the colour of my skin?
You see me now, but will you see me tomorrow?
After today, please hear me. Please see me. Please stand by me. Let me know that it is not all just in my head, because nothing is worse than feeling unseen and unheard.
Change starts now. Remember the black square.
Find out what you can do to demand justice for Black lives here.
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