The Power of the Selfie: #BlackOutDay and the Need for Unapologetic Black Self-Love

by Kwanzaa Imani

If you were on social media on or around Friday, March 6th, you probably saw the hashtag #BlackOutDay. Between Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, Black people on social media made such overwhelming use of the tag that it not only trended on all three websites, but gained mainstream media’s attention as well. And I have to admit, as a person who was there for the original conception of #BlackOutDay, I am beyond proud of my black online family.

The concept was humbly created by T’von (known as expect-the-greatest on Tumblr) who, inspired by the end of Black History Month, came to the realization that he didn’t see many photos of ordinary Black people celebrating their own beauty on Tumblr. This sparked a simple idea: Why not have a day during which Black Tumblr exclusively posted and reblogged selfies of themselves and other black Tumblr users? I remember seeing the original post, a question posed to a few followers that happened to get around, wondering if Black Tumblr would actually act on this idea. What I found was that, with the help of Franchesca "Chescaleigh" Ramsey and some other popular black bloggers and online personalities, March 6th quickly became our official #BlackOutDay, and the concept spread across multiple social media platforms.

Black Tumblr in particular buzzed with anticipation for #BlackOutDay, with people who would normally consider themselves too “unattractive” for selfies gathering encouragement from the community to participate in a day of black self-love and celebration. But what quickly began to circulate was scorn for the event. White social media countered near immediately with questions such as, “Why can’t we just celebrate beauty regardless of race and have a #HumanDay?” Then there were those who tried to ridicule Black Tumblr for “reverse racism” and being selfish for trying to keep the day to themselves. And while Black Tumblr may have expected such a response from white users, what became more alarming were the other ethnicities of color who made similar claims.
Some Asian Tumblr users began a conversation about hosting their own #YellowOut. Even #BrownOut gained some traction across multiple Tumblr users of various ethnic and racial backgrounds. And while Black Tumblr might have been content to inspire other people of color, the case wasn’t such. Instead, the concepts of #YellowOut and #BrownOut were critiques of Black Tumblr, who some felt was apparently showing a “lack of solidarity” by hosting #BlackOutDay. The primary complaint for non-Black people of color was that they’re “oppressed too,” and their faces aren’t represented enough on the Internet either. As true as these statements may be, they only confirmed why black people needed a day to themselves.

#BlackOutDay was not just an African-American event. It was intended to include Black people from across the Diaspora—and across gender, sexual orientation, skin tone, religion, culture, and ability levels—in a movement for them to celebrate themselves. Even mixed race Black people were welcome to participate, allowing them to embrace the blackness they may have been uncomfortable with or unsure about claiming. Because the day was so inclusive, the racism behind #YellowOut and #BrownOut efforts was more glaring. These tags by nature assumed that Black people cannot also be Asian, Latino, Arab, and so forth. They also, by default, sent the message that Black folks do not deserve a day of recognition separate from other people of color.

Outside of the frustration that came from the backlash to #BlackOutDay, I observed Black Tumblr come to many realizations. The first being that Black Pride, even in the harmless form of taking and reblogging selfies, is always translated as hatred for other races. The creation of #WhiteOut, #YellowOut, and #BrownOut became undeniable proof that the Black community cannot create anything without it being copied and redistributed. And, most unfortunately, Black Tumblr began sharing posts expressing their realization of this anti-black sentiment. I thought at first Black Tumblr might fall into despair, and the less confident would abandon our Black Selfie Day altogether.

But instead, the solidarity of our youth amazed me. In the face of threats to post inappropriate images and selfies of other races in the #BlackOutDay tags, Black Tumblr came up with plans that were simple and effective: a masterpost of dangerous and racist blogs was created so that these people could be blocked; Black participants were encouraged to turn anonymous messages off; and a general consensus was made to ignore anyone who would try to make the experience a negative one. For the entire week leading up to #BlackOutDay, Black people on social media began to circulate encouraging messages ranging from proudly claiming to be “unapologetically black” to those affirming the power of our self-love. If anything, the negative responses to #BlackOutDay made the community further resolute in having our own day of celebration, if only to disturb the haters.

And the day itself was an impressive success. The media attention was a tangible way to make note of this, but the real successes were in the stories told and the overwhelming Black love that traveled across social media platforms. I was a full participant in Black Out Friday, having queued selfies to post throughout the day on Tumblr, reblogging as many black selfies as I could (especially those with low reblog or “favorites” counts). And for my own interest, I paid attention to the activity in the #WhiteOut and #YellowOut tags as well. Despite the efforts of some malicious people, Black selfies absolutely overwhelmed the Internet. Black people of all kinds told stories about how the day inspired them to embrace their blackness; how they had come to discover their beauty on their own prior to March 6th and were happy to have this occasion to celebrate it; or even of how "ugly" they usually felt even up to Black Out Day, but were inspired to be shameless enough to post their selfies for the occasion. Many Black people tagged their selfies as #WhiteOut and #YellowOut too, and for most of the day, even these tags sported more Black love than Black hate. On Twitter, Zellie (@zellieimani) posted prompts that encouraged minorities even amongst the Black community to post their pictures, ranging from Black men to Black Greeks to Black cosplayers. And as per the promise of Black Selfie Day, hardly a post went without a retweet, reblog, like, or favorite. As a result of all the publicity Black people were getting online, new friends were even made.

The day proved to be not just an affirmation of what we already knew about racial relations, but a true testament to the nature of 21st century solidarity. Black youth have proven through this experience that solidarity extends beyond public protest. We are learning to embrace our blackness, our community, and ourselves in a diversity-inclusive manner. Thanks in large part to social media and its ability to spread information and facts, the Black community is becoming more socially aware and doing so at younger ages. All of these changes in the community mean that Black youth better recognize forms of anti-black violence that might have been dismissed as harmless “trolling” just a few years ago. Overall, #BlackOutDay represented a culmination of the greatness of Black youth and Black social media: Our ability to combat anti-black hatred with the promise and resolution to love ourselves even more wholly, fully, and unapologetically.

Photo: Shutterstock

Kwanzaa Imani is a regular contributor to For Harriet.

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