Blackout Tuesday: black squares dominate social media and spark debate

Millions post black squares in solidarity with fight for racial justice after George Floyd death, while others say it’s reductive

The protest movement sparked by the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis spread from the music business to social media on Tuesday as major institutions around the world posted black squares and stopped online activity in solidarity.

The #BlackoutTuesday hashtag dominated social media, as musicians, actors, major museums, social media companies and ordinary users all took part. But the hashtag was criticised by some for being reductive.

Black squares replaced the usual barrage of colourful posts and paid-for ads on Instagram, but some refused to take part, calling the move, which started with the music industry, a “major label record executive white guilt day”, and called for people to share anti-racist literature and films instead of remaining silent.

Others, including UK rapper Awate, said the move was undemocratic and enforced on artists. He tweeted: “Instead of this performance, we should find a way to unionise and innovate methods of supporting the struggles of our people under attack. Capitalism got us here. Let’s try a collective approach.”

Ariana Grande, one of the most popular Instagram users with 189 million followers, posted a black square with links to Black Lives Matter accounts, with the caption: “Sending strength and if you are protesting today please be safe.” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has 185 million followers, simply posted a black square with the hashtags #normalizeequality and #blackouttuesday.

People taking part were reminded to not use the Black Lives Matter hashtag as protesters in the US, and worldwide, are using it to organise future protests and share information.

The artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, who was due to show at the Barbican before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, captioned her post: “Please don’t use the black lives matter hashtag, it’s to help those on the ground, and instead refer to local bail fun or international organisations.”

Many other artists also took part, including Olafur Eliasson, and Tracey Emin, who wrote: “The world is full of so much fear, and those who are in charge are making it worse and worse and worse and worse.”

Museums and galleries including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Queens Museum in New York, postponed their online activities, while, on Monday, Tate posted a Chris Ofili painting in tribute to Stephen Lawrence with the caption: “Nobody should have to live in fear because of the colour of their skin.”

TikTok said it was “standing in solidarity with the Black community and the music industry” by turning off its playlists to mark what it called “the extraordinary recurrence of injustice the Black community is experiencing in the long fight against inequality, racism and violence”.

Internet radio network SiriusXM said it was silencing music channels for three minutes. The first minute “to reflect on the terrible history of racism”, the second was “in observance of this tragic moment in time” and the third “to hope for and demand a better future”.

Hip-hop label Def Jam announced that it was pausing the release, marketing and promotion of some artists’ music, while others were donating a day’s wages to various organisation “on the frontlines of this fight”.

In the UK, TV channels and radio stations changed their programmes to mark “Blackout Tuesday”.

BBC Radio 1Xtra hosted a series of discussions and debates in support of the black community, with song choices reflecting black pride, empowerment and identity. BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 broadcast moments of reflection. Some commercial stations, including Kiss, Magic and Absolute Radio were observing a social media blackout “to stand with the black community to fight against racism and support our presenters, musicians, colleagues and listeners”.

ITV daytime show This Morning briefly went dark, showing a black screen with the words “Black Lives Matter”.

MTV planned to go silent for eight minutes – marking the length of time Floyd’s neck was knelt on. Other channels, including VH1 and Comedy Central, were planning a similar gesture, while 4 Music was pausing its output once an hour throughout the day.

• This article was amended on 5 June 2020 because an earlier version mistakenly located New York’s Queens Museum in Brooklyn, when it is in Queens. It was further amended on 15 June 2020 to clarify in the subheading that Blackout Tuesday was not formally linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.


Lanre Bakare and Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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