If you were trying to figure out what was going on with the black squares on Instagram yesterday, you weren’t alone. “Black Out Tuesday,” which was initiated by two music industry professionals, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, was supposed to be a day to “disconnect from work and reconnect with our community.” However, seeing a plethora of black squares prompted folks to engage in a debate over how effective the gesture was. Celebrities also got caught up in the controversy, including Emma Watson.
The Harry Potter and Little Women actress is a vocal women’s rights activist and worked as a UN Goodwill ambassador. In 2019, she also helped launch a legal advice line for people who have suffered sexual harassment at work. Watson puts in the work. But some folks still called her out for what they saw as “performative activism” on her Instagram account.
Watson posted three photos of black squares on her feed with the hashtags, “#blackouttuesday #theshowmustbepaused #amplifymelanatedvoices #amplifyblackvoices.” Before the black squares, she posted three white squares, and people accused the actress of editing the images to adhere to her Instagram feed’s aesthetic.
On Twitter, Watson was criticized for “calling herself an activist while staying silent for five days, besides posting three blank pictures that don’t mean anything. Now posting a black picture and four hashtags which are supposed to do what? Post petitions, donate, be active. Silence is not an option.”
Others defended Watson, citing her years of public service and reminding folks how three black squares on Instagram doesn’t take away her history of activism.
In response to criticism, Watson shared an art piece and poem by Dr. Fahamu Pecou.
She also wrote a statement on Instagram about white privilege.
“There is so much racism, both in our past and present, that is not acknowledged nor accounted for. White supremacy is one of the systems of hierarchy and dominance, of exploitation and oppression, that is tightly stitched into society. As a white person, I have benefited from this,” Watson explained.
“Whilst we might feel that, as individuals, we’re working hard internally to be anti-racist, we need to work harder externally to actively tackle the structural and institutional racism around us. I’m still learning about the many ways I unconsciously support and uphold a system that is structurally racist.”
“Over the coming days, I’ll be using my bio link and Twitter to share links to resources I’ve found useful for my own researching, learning, listening … I see your anger, sadness and pain. I cannot know what this feels like for you but it doesn’t mean I won’t try to.”
Other celebrities such as Halsey and Ariana Grande have participated in protests in response to the death of George Floyd and many others killed by police violence.