A year ago today, the name George Floyd began to reverberate around the globe. His killing ignited what some refer to as a ‘racial reckoning’. People took to the streets, social media, political arenas, zoom etc. to respond to this unlawful killing. One of those responses were the black squares posted on June 2 2020, referred to as #BlackoutTuesday

There were conflicting views and criticism; examples of the main ones being.

…the use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, which activists use to stay informed about demonstrations, for financial donations and to document racial violence by police. Filling the hashtags feed with black squares, some argued, obscured more direct activities associated with the movement, redirected attention and “silencedâ€� activists.

Blackout Tuesday: the black square is a symbol of online activism for non-activists | Jolynna Sinanan The Conversation | June 4, 2020 

If you want to take action, you have to be anti-racist, which takes effort, resources, and time. Posting a black square and nothing else can be construed as an empty, performative gesture, rather than a legitimate act of solidarity with those who are suffering right now.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Sharing Your ‘Blackout Tuesday’ Post on Instagram

But for others, faced with this awful injustice; amidst the crashing waves of response; while navigating the emotional impact his killing may have been having on them personally; it may have provided a doable way to respond.

Did I didn’t I?

I posted a black square. Just the square, no hashtags, and I did internally debate whether I would or not. In the immediate days following George Floyd’s murder, poetry was my primary means of response.

“In…out…in…out…in…out, until he breathed his last breath.
I, can’t, breathe.”

Although it was preceded by a very inarticulate, instagram story (27th of May 2020). I eventually deleted it from my instagram archive, however I kept it on my phone. I wanted a record and reminder of just how unable I was to articulate a response, yet still put it out there. Due to an overwhelming need to respond. -The text with the screenshot is what I said in the video.

So I get why some people (apparently 28 million on instagram) saw the black square as an option. However, I agree that that cannot be the sum total of our actions, in response to this, or any other inhumane injustice or atrocity.

  • What comes after the posted square?
  • When the news coverage and hashtags have died down, what then?
  • What reckoning has there really been?

As a reckoning is needed, at the very least a personal one.

Do What You Can

This became a bit of a mantra for me. As in the days and weeks following George Floyd’s death, there was a constant outpouring, and almost overload of information, calls for action, statements of intent, ways to help etc. I realised that I needed to decide what I felt I could do, and however good the rest, conserve my energy and emotional capacity for those things.

This, for me, was: poetry & the arts; signposting individuals/organisations doing frontline or anti-racist work; sharing resources I felt were credible and would resonate with those in my network; and being open to a limited number of private conversations/communications with individuals or organisations that were grappling with how to respond. It was also, even if unnoticed by others, continuing to use the June 2nd black square.

Over the last year, I’ve intentionally re-used it for poetic expressions, statements, quotes etc. Which although not exclusively, have often related to issues of race or the pursuit for change of some kind; personally or corporately. Doing this was a personal statement to myself, that my show of solidarity and commitment to engage was not relegated to one day, or one act.

Resistance is NOT a one-lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day. Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them.

A quote seen on a few social media posts at the height of the global response to the killing of George Floyd

One Year On

Keeping the above quote in mind, one year on, what has changed? In what spaces are you enacting your resistance? What will you re-use your black squares (figuratively or literally) for? Please note, I used ‘we‘. I’m still figuring out and trying to refine how and where I ‘do what I can.’

There is still much that needs to change. As the following points out, the global lament that went up for George Floyd was for him, and in recognition of what many people, including in the UK, have been experiencing for years.

…The words ‘I can’t breathe’ have been used too many times, in too many places. There have been 1,782 deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police in England and Wales since 1990. But no officer has been convicted of manslaughter, murder or assault in relation to such a death since 1971. As the US president acknowledged America’s long history of systemic racism and called for change, the UK government was defending its swiftly discredited race report, which played down evidence of institutional racism.

The Guardian view on the murder of George Floyd: a racial reckoning begins | Editorial | April 21 2021

Whatever our part, in whatever arena and for whatever issue, sustainable change will only occur with our collective effort. I wonder where we will have got to by next year this time.