Proud2Bme | #BLACKOUT: Black Self-Love on Social Media

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#BLACKOUT: Black Self-Love on Social Media

By Kimberly Neil--It all started on tumblr. One of the creators (expect-the-greatest) had a lightbulb moment when he realized the only black people he really saw regularly on his dash were celebrities. The idea of regular people getting notes on a selfie is not necessarily that revolutionary on a website like tumblr. However, the idea of black users receiving the same recognition as their white counterparts was largely unheard of.

Luckily, other people decided they wanted in on this movement. @nukirk.digi.tal and @blkoutqueen on twitter also became involved, and through ‘word of mouth’ the day turned out of be a success. By the end of the first official Blackout day, the hashtag #BlackOutDay was mentioned over 160,000 times on Twitter within that 24 hour period. Other official hashtags included: #Blackout #BlackFriday, #Black Selfie Day, and #TheBlackOut.

In a sense, through the participation and support (likes, retweets, reblogs) of black people all over the world this day provided an idea of what social media might be like if black people were represented in the same way that people who meet Eurocentric beauty standards are on a daily basis.

The Blackout Movement was not immune to criticism and controversy. Because I am biracial, I definitely felt uncertainty when I first heard about it. No one likes to feel alienated because of something as socially constructed as race. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized exactly why the creation of this day was long overdue. From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Eric Garner to Martese Johnson, there has certainly not been a shortage of newsworthy incidents that scream structural racism.

I see #Blackout in the same light as #BlackLivesMatter. Both hashtags are about reclaiming the narratives and celebrating black beauty, intelligence, and success. These hashtags create a sense of upward momentum, especially in contrast to all of the stories about violence that have made national headlines lately. Representation matters. Open up any major fashion magazine or turn to any major television network in North American and Europe, and chances are you will not find a thorough amount of diversity. Though racism and prejudice are not necessarily interchangeable concepts, misinformation from a lack of representation often leads to internal bias which can escalate to acts of prejudice which can easily escalate to racism.

Of course, all of this is macro level stuff. In the grand scheme of things, the more accepting we all become of every race and other differentiating characteristics, the better the world will become. Raising awareness on the internet is definitely a step in the right direction. I personally believe this hashtag has a potentially more tangible impact on a micro level, though.

The idea that for one day the black community can see themselves reflected and simultaneously participate in an event that celebrates their uniqueness is big. I mentioned earlier that I am biracial. Growing up, I saw a large amount of diversity in my neighborhood and at the schools I attended. Both sides of my family represented different cultures and I was evenly raised in both. In this sense, I believe I can accurately say that it took me a while to see race.

 I think part of the reason behind this is the idea of what was important to me from childhood to adolescence and becoming a teenager. Since the adolescent through teenage window of time includes puberty and a changing body, insecurity can be a natural part of the process of growing up.  I believe I can honestly say that I experienced intensified feelings of self-doubt during this time because the diversity of my world was not reflected on TV, in movies, or in other media.

Studies show that sociocultural factors influence the way body image develops with age. Self-esteem is defined as “a positive or negative feeling towards the self.” Statistics demonstrate there has been a consistent increase in feelings of negativity amongst 14 to 16 year old girls in Western society, and multiple studies have linked this phenomenon of low self-worth to the media.

While the same amount of research focusing on general Western society has not been translated with the same specificity to African American girls, some studies have reinforced the validity of this hypothesis: The feelings of negativity that girls experience in Western society are exponentially higher for their African American counterparts. A lack of representation can exacerbate or trigger someone who is predisposed to mental illness. Posting selfies might not cure this problem, but there is something incredibly powerful about reminding people to see their inner beauty. This is especially true when society as a whole implies the opposite.

Interestingly enough, a large portion of the tumblr and Twitter demographic is made up of teenagers. As a Millennial, technology has been part of the majority of my generation’s life. I have some childhood memories from before I had access to my own cell phone and computer, but not many. I wonder what it must be like for the generation succeeding mine – because all they’ve known since birth is a world with technology. This is one of the biggest reasons the Blackout movement is so essential.

By challenging what is seen as the default on social media in an extremely unapologetic way, a new platform for self-expression is created in a way that celebrates differences. There is great power in seeing yourself reflected in the majority, especially if this self-recognition happens at such a vulnerable age. Blackout also provides an opportunity for adults to remember exactly how their uniqueness is special. There is strength in solidarity.

The most recent Blackout date was on Friday. I encourage you to check out the hashtag and repost!  The next Blackout date is May 1st for all platforms except tumblr (tumblr users requested that it be a seasonal event) and June 21st for all platforms. Blackout is a very welcoming movement, and it’s really easy to participate. For people of African descent, all you have to do is post a selfie and use the appropriate hashtags. For people of color who do not identify as black and for people that identify as white, simply reblog, repost, and respond to all of the beautiful pictures you come across on social media. Hopefully Blackout will encourage everyone regardless of their race to evaluate and question their concept of what is beautiful. The goal is to promote acceptance in all shades. It’s as simple as that.

Check out Blackout on their website, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram! 

About this blogger: Kimberly is a Sophomore at Mount Holyoke College, a woman's liberal arts college in South Hadley, MA. She is currently an Anthropology major. Her interests include ballet, performing, choreographing, writing, binge watching documentaries on Netflix, and taking too many pictures with friends. She plans to pursue grad school (hopefully overseas!) and research mental illness, specifically eating disorders. She also hopes to one day work to change laws around mental health in the United States and promote the idea that women around the world should have autonomy over their bodies. 

Also by Kimberly:

People of Color and Mental Illness: An In-Depth Interview with Dior Vargas


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