I really try my best to engage with social media as little as possible. In general, I’m trying to minimize phone time while social distancing, with spectacular failures nearly every day (gotta text my buds, you know?). But today, I pulled up the browser version of Instagram (which is not nearly as slick as the app on my iPhone) and saw black square after black square after black square.
The statement is definitely striking: there weren’t any beautiful photos of another Fairbanks spring, nor any cute dogs, nor any smiling friends. Just black squares. I must say that it wasn’t very interesting to mindlessly scroll through Instagram anymore, which is one of the intended purposes of Blackout Tuesday: to get scrollers off social media and devote their newly found free time to learning about and taking action against racial inequity in our country.
This is admirable, and I feel hopeful seeing how many of my friends are making a statement. However, something didn’t quite sit right with me. It almost seemed too easy to put up a black square and then go on with your day. How many black square posters were actually researching racial inequity, the Black Lives Matter movement, which organizations fighting for justice were the best to donate to, etc.? And were doing so for the same number of minutes or hours that they spend on social media in any given day? Hopefully most. But, and perhaps this is pessimistic of me, likely not everyone.
Was this just another form of comfort and complacency?
I wanted to do some research on the black squares, so I did. And this is what I found.
I started with Sylvan Esso, a group that wins the award for my biggest musical crush of all time. This is what Amelia posted today. What she said really resonated with how I was feeling.
Under her post, I saw some comments about how posting black squares might be a big first step for some people, which I absolutely agree with. My mission here isn’t to bring down anyone who posted a black square. It’s to say that doing so didn’t seem quite right to me. What seems right to me is to post what you need to on social media, and then go out and make more noise. Or skip the black square and create a post like Amelia’s, one that acknowledges her privilege, illustrates what she will do to move past complacency, and still makes a statement in support of Black lives.
I spent my day learning and listening.
I can’t remember how I got to this page, but it provided an afternoon of learning. The National Museum of African American History & Culture just released a “Talking About Race” web portal where you can learn about the history of slavery, how to educate children and adults on issues of race, and how you can take care of yourself while fighting for equality.
I read through the Historical Foundations of Race article and deepened my understanding of how oppressing Indigenous and Black people has been intimately woven into the fabric of America’s establishment and subsequent 350+ years (this PBS Origin of Everything video does a wonderful job of condensing the article into a 10-minute watch). The portal is an excellent resource for someone like me who is just beginning to learn about systemic racism and who wants to learn how to talk about it.
I spoke to my friend Julia today and shared the “Talking About Race” web portal with her (she’s an elementary school teacher). She shared with me the Black Lives Matter playlist on Spotify, which I’ve been listening to while writing this.
I also found President Obama’s Anguish and Action page, where he shares resources about police violence, how to support reform, and engagement opportunities.
For me, the learning has begun.
It wasn’t comfortable writing this post. I kept thinking: “Is this going to offend someone?” and “Have I done enough today?”. I kept imagining that others would think things like, “So, just because she listens to a Spotify playlist she thinks she’s an expert?”.
I think these kind of unhelpful imaginings are what has kept me quiet for so long. If I don’t express my thoughts about race and privilege and my desire to share what I’ve learned, then I’m safe. I can’t offend anyone and I can pretend I’m not a part of the oppressive systems in our country.
But something happened today when I took the time to start my research into racial inequities. I now feel fired up and empowered. I want to keep learning and sharing and helping. I want to dissolve any notion of “otherness”. I want to both embrace the black squares and go far, far beyond the statement they carry. Will you join me?