On June 2nd, 2020, anyone who lives in the United States, or at least follows a significant portion of people living in America, would have had their Instagram flooded with black screens. Blackout Tuesday, the event that pushed people to share the same message (Instagram saw almost 24 million posts with the hashtag #blackouttuesday), was aimed at raising awareness towards the struggle of communities of color in the United States following the brutal murder of George Floyd. It was pervasive. Nearly everyone posted a black screen in solidarity with the movement.
Then, it was the turn of petitions. A number of people began posting links to different petitions on their stories or in their bios. The number was smaller, but many of these petitions reached tens of millions of signatures.
Finally, came the donations. Users posted links to different donating opportunities and some even went to the extent of posting screenshots of their own donations, encouraging others to do the same. But the number was much lower.
Around a month had passed already since the murder that had set off the onslaught of “action” mentioned, and the hype was dying out which, for many privileged white people, living in neighborhoods like my own, meant that the job was done.
The problem is that they saw this as a job, another thing to get done. Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, claims that the most dangerous opponents to progress for the black communities are not the out-and-out racists, but rather the powerful, ‘woke’ and politically correct people in power who prefer order to justice. This position has mutated a little since Dr. King’s death, but the main idea stays the same: posting a black square to appease your followers and give yourself a pat on the back for having done the right thing is not only not enough, it is destructive to the goals that the movement itself wants to achieve.
What is missing from many privileged communities in, mainly, the suburban United States is immediately evident as soon as you step foot in them or one of their public schools: it is a monochromatic display of homogeneity and uniformity. You will struggle to find a significant portion of Black, Latino, Asian-American or Native American students, and if you do find them, chances are many of them are bused in from inner city districts, through opportunities that are granted thanks to the ‘good heart’ and presumptive social awareness of the richer, whiter, suburban districts.
The problem is deeper than even just representation. What having no people of color present in your classes means, is that discussion and confrontation never happens. Many white students do not even interact in a serious manner with a black student for their whole schooling career.
As an outsider moving into the United States system, I was impressed by how central racism is to the social and academic sphere and the concurring shyness displayed by adults and students alike. As a privileged white male, myself, at the very start of my own long road to understanding (or at least empathizing with) the minority communities in this country, I was amazed at the astounding lack of possibility for discussion that most, if not all, white adults and teenagers live with.
Yet, they post a black square in solidarity.
My question was, and still is, simple: in solidarity with what? With who?
It is easy to establish that black squares, links to petitions and even donations serve little in educating much of America to the cause of a movement that is critical to the future of this country.
What is far worse, is that many white folks feel exonerated from further action after having completed this easy checklist of ‘activism’. There is no search for discussion. No introspection. No confrontation. No disagreement. And so, they continue with their lives. For them, nothing has changed. Their peers still see them as they see themselves: “woke”. No one has grown. No difference has been made. If anything, this false display of solidarity angers those who are firmly on the radical side and perhaps even pushes those ‘purples’ over the fence to the other side. And that very fence becomes more impenetrable.
We often talk about implicit bias. About how it is the continuation of segregation and it is harder to eradicate due to its invisibility. It is easy to see why. America is still afraid to confront it and instead praises those who are best able to hide it behind easy shows of awareness to the cause. Those very people remain in power and continue to decide the fate of working-class people of color, unaware of their issues, their beliefs.
Instead of posting black screens, donating to causes that they do not understand and denouncing their own white privilege as if it was something imposed on them by some evil god, white people should start seeking out discussion to understand and develop their own views when it comes to racism. This does not mean finding a token black person to illustrate their personal issues, but rather to collectively address and listen to the black community as a whole, recognizing its own diversity and differences. Simply, and quite incredibly when we are in the 21st century: recognizing their humanity and, thus, their trials, tribulations, joys, successes and failures. Only in this way can America continue on this long path that aims for complete, explicit and implicit equality.