#Blackout Tuesday: The Problem With this Symbolic Protest

As major cities in the United States are in utter and complete chaos over the continued failure to protect or defend the lives of unarmed black folks killed by rogue police officers and vigilantes, a social media campaign emerged called, “BlackOut Tuesday,” with some description of how the music industry is taking a stand against anti-black racism and wants everyone to pause the social media and use their voices instead.

The initiative was set up by Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, two black music industry executives at Atlantic Records and Platoon.

I immediately thought to myself about the “Blackout Day 2020” movement black activists like Calvin Martyr have been organizing for months that will take place July 7, which is a call to action where “not one black person,” allies and people of color spend one dollar to show economic power and the ability to hurt the very corporations who have shown little to no regard for the violence black people face on a daily basis. You know, the corporations that invest money in groups, political parties and organizations that work against justice for unarmed Black people harmed or killed by rogue police officers and vigilantes.

I also thought about #Blackout Coalition, an activist group on Facebook that pre-dates Blackout Day 2020 by years (2015) and has over 1.2 million members. I thought about the #Blackout Revival which just took place May 31, 2020.

I thought about the music industry – the same industry that lamented the lost income they were facing, while artists like D-Nice, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and many others were providing some form of relief for fans at home due to the Covid-19 shutdown — now talking about showing their solidarity with Black folks with Blackout Tuesday. Some of your favorite artists got on the bandwagon as did your friends who follow trends without knowing who is behind it, who has actually been doing the work without fanfare and why those with the real power like music executives are now getting on board. Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Drake, Radiohead, Coldplay, Kelly Rowland and the Beastie Boys were among the many celebrities who agreed to participate in Blackout Tuesday.

My initial question was why do they think it’s a good idea to remove Black influencers and their allies from social media and therefore their followers at the height of the uprisings against police brutality which is when you actually need access to social media?

Reminders of curfews, resources, great stories coming out of the chaos (like police officers siding with and kneeling with protesters) documentation of rogue police behavior like the brutalization of Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, Morehouse and Spelman college students attacked by police, tased, pulled out of their cars, arrested and being told they should be killed as they were transported to the police station in addition to other worthwhile information. How are you going to know six Atlanta police officers have been charged with excessive force because of their attack on those students if you’re participating in a social media blackout? How are you going to reach out for help when someone has overreached their authority?

It doesn’t make sense. The music industry is hijacking the labor of actual Black activists who have been organizing #Blackout events for years. The Facebook page for the Blackout Day July 20 event was created May 8, before George Floyd’s killing and after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and Breona Taylor. #Blackout began in 2015. Black folks been having “Blackouts” before then. Don’t get me to talking about the fantastic 2007 HBO movie “Blackout” starring Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Saldana, LaTanya Richardson, Prodigy and a young Michael B. Jordan, but I digress.

Many celebrities in general and Black celebrities specifically have jumped on this “Blackout Tuesday” bandwagon or fallen in line with the music corporations because so many are actually disconnected from the communities they claim to represent.

I get it. The desire to help is real but there are so many ways to actually help. Those with the resources and means to check out what is behind a “movement” should actually make use of those means to avoid problematic situations like this. Who really benefits from having black people off social media at the height of these uprisings? It ain’t black folk. Symbolic protests should not undermine the interests of those engaged in real protests.

Once again, the powerful have appropriated black labor and culture and enlisted the help of Black celebrities to get Black people offline, when we actually need to be online for our safety and protection. That’s not exactly fighting the power in my book.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but if I were, my Twitter fingers would be itching right about now.

My mother always says common sense isn’t common. This could be the case with a couple of folks with good intentions trying to make the world better, but not thinking through all of the important pieces.

If you want to get involved, then actually get involved and hit the pavement (before curfew), write a check to a legitimate organization out there committed to police reform and ending police brutality,  donate to a bail fund for protesters arrested during the uprisings or support political candidates who have an actual plan and policy for criminal justice reform. Many of the celebrities participating in “Blackout Tuesday” are already doing these things and should continue to do so.

Whatever you do, don’t be a follower and allow your status as a leader to be used to disempower people who need empowerment and your voice.

This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual. 

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