Black Lives Matter. And so do black voices.

Anna Silverman

Right now, the world is witnessing a movement protesting the long-dismissed systemic racism in today’s society. I’m a white, 17-year old girl in a predominantly caucasian San Francisco suburb. I was raised on the belief that everyone is equal, but right now I’m witnessing a historical movement proving that this isn’t true. I want to participate in this movement that isn’t about me. But I’m conflicted on how to do that.

Black voices have been silenced as long as they have been present in America. Does an Instagram post presenting my thoughts on why racism isn’t fair help support or further push these voices beneath my own? By using my privilege to promote Black Lives Matter (BLM), am I promoting equality or dismissing the equal rights owed to black people? Am I acting as a hero or a self-proclaimed white savior? Or, by posting on Instagram, am I acting like many other white people ready to advocate their anti-racist beliefs without considering the black community? This lack of consideration on how to advance the BLM movement and the greater community is where Blackout Tuesday went wrong.

Of course, being anti-racist is more than just a trend. It’s more than just a response to a string of unjust deaths, or at least it should be. The messages currently being broadcast across media platforms target the systemic, institutionalized racism that black Americans face on a daily basis. However, the problem arises in posts by white Americans. White people led Blackout Tuesday, posting black screens on Instagram in a misguided attempt to demonstrate their support for the movement. I’m sure some of these people have also been signing petitions, researching actions to take and educating themselves on institutionalized racism in America, but they also were influenced because all of their friends were posting black screens and it was an easy way to make a stand. My question is, where does the FOMO start and the activism end? What percentage of informative and activist content on social media is motivated by the number of posts that are guilting others in posting? What percent of this trend is individuals trying to prove to their online community that they aren’t racist?

Seeing a sea of black screens on Tuesday, June 2 at first made me feel guilty, that my first venture on the app that day was at 11:30 pm—which felt too late to post. But then I started to think about why I wanted to post. The next day, seeing hundreds of angry videos and messages about the trend, I was grateful I didn’t.

The reaction to Blackout Tuesday proved that not all efforts in the movement are helpful, despite their intent. Support for the movement is good, but the black screens just overwhelmed any other helpful content that could arise on one’s feed. According to CNN, the hashtags on these posts can block information flow about the movement and protests. Activists and celebrities alike have echoed the same sentiment on social media. The online community has made it very clear that information about protests, as well as steps to educate yourself and participate most effectively are the best kind of public messages right now. Don’t repeat history, where Black voices are smothered beneath a white sea of ignorance. 

The solution? Inform yourself. Post because you are inspired and want to educate others, not because you don’t want your friends to think you’re racist. Of course, it is better to include yourself in the movement to promote racial equality. Signing petitions and contributing to organizations without publicizing it is extremely important as well. But now isn’t the time to be shy. It’s the time to advocate for the people who have been left in the dust for so long. Go out and protest, make signs and join chants. But in your attempts to support, don’t sideline the voices that are most important to right now. Elevate and showcase black voices, feature them in your posts and keep them in the back of your mind. Use your voice to advocate for them, not instead of them. 

This is an important step for white people, the center of history, who are not the ones who have been hurt in this movement. My race is not disproportionately exposed to police violence to the point where a traffic stop could become a death sentence. We are not the victim of this abuse of power, and this is not our time to shine. It’s our time to support the people who have been and continue to be the victims of a system built to prevent their success. It’s their time to change this, and it is the obligation of white people to help in whatever way possible. Black voices are the most important to hear right now. So before you pick up your phone to post a message on social media, consider your intentions and what impact your post might have.