By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the celebration of melanin and excellence that was #BlackoutDay. If not, here’s a little background:
#BlackoutDay, which took place on March 8, was an effort pioneered by Tumblr user, Y.R.N . The gist was that black people of all shades, shapes, and sizes would post selfies and other things that were pro-black affirming, in acts of solidarity and self love.
It’s no secret that black people are underrepresented in media and places of high achievement. Although there are 45 million black people in the US, we make up less than 6% of actors on TV and models in print media. Believe it or not, that takes a collective toll on the psyche of black people across the country. The absence of positive images of ourselves in media, coupled with constant micro-aggressions, and blatant violence against black people in America have proven effects on how black people view themselves and interact in society (i.e., the doll studies).
The idea started with a Tumblr post, and after gracious support through likes and re-blogs, Tumblr users set the date and excitedly spread the word. Eventually, other social network users caught wind, and it was decided that the Blackout would cross over to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Early Friday morning is when the real magic happened. I posted my first selfie, an adorable photo co-starring my cat Josephine Baker. After refreshing my Tumblr dashboard to reveal my first post, dozens and dozens of similar post popped up. I was amazed. Pictures of beautiful brown people appeared left and right. Black women with long braids, black men with smiles, Afro-latino people, overweight black people, skinny black people, trans women, goths, black people with disabilities, and so many more. It continued on like this all day.
People were creative, too! Creating collages of selfies to show their progression, making memes, and even funny videos. I constantly and excitedly refreshed my Macbook and phone every few minutes to see who was going to slay my life next.
We were just posting pictures, but I felt an immense sense of support and community. These people, many of which who were strangers to one another, were so passionately praising and supporting one another. It was simply beautiful.
There was a young deaf black guy, who posted a picture of himself with tears in his eyes. He was so overcome with a mixture of joy and sadness after having to navigate a world that consistently told him he wasn’t enough. But today all he had to do was post a picture on the Internet and he was met with love and support.
There were many stories like this one. Trans people, people with physical disabilities, people who felt that they didn’t meet conventional beauty standards, shared their stories of feeling underrepresented and unwanted. They were met with love, support, and genuine encouragement. One of the best parts of the Blackout was the showcasing of these narratives that displayed the intersectionality of blackness and other marginalized identities.
Believe it or not, the Blackout was transformative for many people, myself included. It allowed me another chance to reflect on my black identity and the root of my insecurities. As a first generation American woman raised in the South, I’ve had my share of identity crises. Growing up under the critical eye of the African community can be a hard thing to endure. African mothers and aunties were the inventors of “shade” (ask anyone). That plus being the awkward kid, with “interesting” hair, and the bad habit of talking too much, led me to become very self-conscious. I spent most of my formative years as the resident “African booty scratcher,” worrying if people were staring at my hair or judging my inability to dance.
Self-esteem wise, I was a bit of a mess growing up, but I can say that I was raised in a community that affirmed my blackness and African identity. My mother read us African fairy-tales growing up and made sure we had black Barbies. She wanted to be sure we had positive images of our culture and ourselves.
I went to predominately black public schools my entire life where I had pretty diverse groups of friends, and it wasn’t until I went to college that I faced the realities of how white privilege works systematically. It was then that I experienced being the only black person in a classroom and being tokenized by so called friends.
After years of being a community organizer in my hometown, college was the first time I was consistently face to face with the systems of oppression I was taught to fight against. People like me were underrepresented on my campus and I saw first hand the negative stereotypes of black people that many in the white majority held true. I was already working on adjusting to college and making new friends, but now I had these new revelations to adjust to.
This time in my life affirmed the importance of having positive representations of blackness in my daily life, as well as immersing myself in spaces that celebrate diversity. So I spent the next few years of college joining organization such as my school's African student group, and working in leadership roles to make my university a more inclusive environment. Engaging in these spaces cushioned the blow of systematic oppression and assisted in reassuring me of my worth, and the beauty of blackness.
This is why Blackout Day was so important to me. Not only did I get to have my pictures and words celebrated by my peers, but also another chance to see diverse representations of black identity. I realized that in a way that day was an act of self-care for me.
I have always been a little self-conscious and unsure of myself and sharing pictures isn’t going to change that overnight. But it did let me know that so many of my own people can identify with that. It further acknowledged that I still need positive images of myself in all aspects of my life, and that engaging in spaces that truly celebrate me as a black woman is so necessary.
The Blackout displayed black people who were just like me, black people who were nothing like me, and we got to virtually praise one another and engage in dialogue about how we truly see ourselves.
There are complexities to black identity. We aren’t all the same, but we do have in common the systems that aim to hold us back. We have in common the need to be celebrated in our simplest nuances and everyday experiences. Blackout day was a 24-hour period that promoted that idea, and allowed us to scream “Black Lives Matter” in a society that is consistently saying that we don’t.
Every day should be Blackout day. Everyday should be a celebration of who we are and the intricacies of black identity. But until then, Black Tumblr and beyond have decided to host Blackout Day on the first Friday of every month. So if you’re in need of some positivity, cue up your selfies and join the party!