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What is Blackout Tuesday? Why people are posting black squares on social media

A movement started by two black women in the music industry as a day to reflect has evolved into social media users filling feeds with blacked-out images.
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/ Source: TODAY

On Tuesday, instead of selfies, memes and images of protests over the death of George Floyd filling your Instagram feed, you might notice people posting simple black squares.

It stems from a movement called Blackout Tuesday, which was initially created by two black women music executives, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, as a day to stop and reflect with the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused.

"In response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black citizens at the hands of the police, #TheShowMustBePaused is an initiative created ... in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard," a statement from Thomas and Agyemang on the movement's website explains. "We will not continue to conduct business as usual without regard for Black lives."

The deliberate choice of Tuesday, June 2, is to "intentionally disrupt the work week," the two wrote. "Monday suggests a long weekend and we can't wait until Friday for change. It is a day to take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community."

The music industry is at the center of the movement, Thomas and Agyemang continued, because it's "profited predominantly from Black art."

They concluded: "This is not just a 24-hour initiative. We are and will be in this fight for the long haul. We are tired and can't change things alone."

To participate, the founders recommended that people who've been "impacted by recent events ... take a break — there is a lot going on and sometimes we all just need a minute. Take that minute." They also suggested donating to relevant causes and educating yourself with anti-racism resources.

Major voices in the music industry have begun spreading the message. Spotify is adding to select playlists an 8-minute, 46-second track of silence, the amount of time that a Minneapolis police officer placed his knee on George Floyd's neck. Apple is directing users of its radio feature to one station that's only streaming black artists.

Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Sony Music, Live Nation and others posted that they're observing.

Many artists, including Rihanna, the Foo Fighters and the Rolling Stones, posted their participation, too.

The movement spread far beyond the music industry, with more celebrities, influencers and personalities sharing posts. It soon evolved into people filling social media feeds with a blacked-out image, though it's unclear where and when that started.

Now the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused has more than 280,000 posts associated with it on Instagram, and #BlackoutTuesday has garnered more than 6 million.

TODAY's Al Roker posted a black square on his account this morning, as did stars like actress Jennifer Garner and Bravo's Andy Cohen.

But the Blackout Tuesday movement isn't without controversy. Critics have pointed out that social media users sharing black squares, especially those who tagged #BlackLivesMatter in their posts, are possibly drowning out important information and African American voices on these platforms.

Instead, supporters of Blackout Tuesday are encouraging participants to use the hashtags #TheShowMustBePaused, as the founders originally specified, and #BlackoutTuesday.

George Floyd died on May 25 in police custody after he was arrested by Minneapolis officers, one of whom was captured on cellphone video kneeling on his neck for almost 9 minutes. The officer in question, Derek Chauvin, was fired along with the three other officers involved and was charged with Floyd's murder. Since then, protests, some peaceful and some violent, have continued to spread, highlighting racial tensions across the country.