“#BlackoutDay, which we have been using for more than five years, will no longer make sense to the general public,” Sebastian said.
Earlier this week, if you logged on to Instagram, you will have noticed the black squares coming up on your feed with the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday.
People posted it to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement following the killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people in police custody.
The day was actually supposed to be for the music industry with the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused — but somehow a different flyer about a blackout encouraging people to post black squares went viral.
#TheShowMustBePaused was created by two Black women, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang. On their website, they said the initiative was “in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard” and added that it’s “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community.”
However, the day of action did not go as planned.
As of Friday, the hashtag had 28.9 million posts; it prompted a lot of criticism as people felt that it led to silence instead of dialogue. Lil Nas X even said to stop posting for a day was “the worst idea ever.”
He tweeted: “I just really think this is the time to push as hard as ever. I don’t think the movement has ever been this powerful. We don’t need to slow it down by posting nothing. We need to spread info and be as loud as ever.”
If that weren’t confusing enough, rapper T.I. announced he was supporting a day called #BlackoutDay2020, an economic boycott in which he urged people not to spend a single penny on July 7.
If the term “Blackout Day” sounds familiar, it’s because about five years ago, a group of three black people decided to create the first-ever Blackout Day. It did not include the posting of black squares or an economic boycott; its intention was to empower Black people. It was so successful that people ended up creating spinoffs for various subsections of the Black community.
Mars Sebastian told BuzzFeed News in March 2015 that T’von Green and Nukirk came up with the idea of the #BlackoutDay hashtag.
“The current #BlackoutTuesday is actually #TheShowMustBePaused, a movement by Jamila Thomas & Brianna Agyemang to hold the music industry accountable with a completely different Call to Action than our movement,” Sebastian said. “And neither of these should be confused with #BlackoutDay2020, an economic boycott that is using our tag and is slated for July 7th that we also had no direct part in organizing. “
She said that #BlackoutDay was to “create a space of positivity in the midst of heavy conversations around police brutality and Black American identity post the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown and countless others.”
Sebastian added, “We wanted to curate a space that would feel like an oasis in a sea of negativity, a space Black folks from all over the world can connect with each other and celebrate themselves. T’von, our legacy member, left the project in 2016 to pursue other things, and Nukirk and I have kept things going since.”
Now it’s run by Sebastian, a 26-year-old writer from Brooklyn, and Nukirk, a 42-year-old freelance web developer and journalist from Brooklyn.
At the time, the hashtag was well received, and people across different social media sites took part; it was covered by several media outlets, including BuzzFeed. Since then, dozens of spinoffs have cropped up, but Sebastian said they were never contacted.
“It’s symptomatic of the fact that over the last few years, many people using social platforms have not known or don’t remember where #BlackoutDay came from back in 2015,” she said.
However, she said, Blackout Tuesday has a very different energy than the typical spinoff. “It’s been difficult to deal with the confusion,” she said
Sebastian added that the response to #TheShowMustBePaused is concerning.
“The #BlackoutTuesday tag is getting attributed to us, as is some of the critique surrounding the actions being taken today,” she said.
They said the difference between the current “blackout” and their hashtag is that people were encouraged to initially post selfies.
But since then, they’ve asked people to post Black art, music, and businesses to increase their visibility. Sebastian said that they’ve also used the hashtag’s visibility to spread information in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and organizers on the ground.
She said it’s not the only incident of confusion that is happening with the hashtag. Rapper T.I. appears to have endorsed a hashtag called #BlackoutDay2020 and erased the beginnings of the hashtag.
She said they will have to see how the situation pans out in the next few weeks, but people might find the hashtag too confusing from now on.
“Our general gut feeling right now is that any tags using ‘Blackout’ in any form may now be too complicated to make heads or tails out of and so #BlackoutDay, which we have been using for more than five years, will no longer make sense to the general public,” Sebastian said.