Blackout Tuesday, which started as an effort by the music industry to amplify Black voices and reconnect big names in music with their communities, quickly turned into a counterproductive gesture that many white people used to show solidarity (without doing anything else) for the Black Lives Matter cause.
Those black squares clogged up the Instagram feed, pushing down important information for protesters and organizers and taking up space they shouldn't take up. It quickly became clear that many non-Black people who were staying silent in every other way were using black squares to "prove" their allyship. Emma Watson was one celebrity to post the black square (indeed, she posted three in a row, each with a white border, which follows her Instagram "aesthetic") while seemingly putting forth no other effort to support Black Lives Matter.
And for that, she faced intense backlash from both Instagram commenters and Twitter users. "Yes queen, give us nothing," one Instagram commenter wrote.
"Realize this is performative and doing more harm than good," another wrote. "Several Black organizers expressed distress with the Blackout Tuesday social media movement. The concern is the blackout is a form of silence and it crowds social media and blocks important information."
Emma Watson has a huge platform and has, in the past, used it to fight for women and people of color. The fact that she posted three white-bordered black boxes and didn't post anything else on her Instagram disappointed fans immensely.
She was labeled a "white feminist" by many, which is a term for feminists who only support and advance the causes of privileged white women, who don't recognize the specific and distinct struggle of women of color, and who refuse to recognize how white women have contributed to the oppression of women of color.
Still, some Emma Watson fans came to her defense and said that she has been speaking out against racism and lifting up people of color for years.
They cited her activism work, much of which has involved lifting up Black voices and speaking out against racism in her Instagram feed and in her real life.
Emma Watson responded to the backlash on Instagram. She said she was holding off posting until Blackout Tuesday ended in the UK, presumably to make room for Black voices while she stayed silent. When Blackout Tuesday was over, she posted a piece of artwork called "White Lies, Subtleties, Micro-Aggressions, and Other Choking Hazards" by artist Dr Fahamu Pecou.
Later on, she posted a graphic text image with the caption, "I stand with you." The image itself reads, "There is so much racism, both in our past and present, that is not acknowledged nor accounted for. White supremacy is one of the systems of hierarchy and dominance, of exploitation and oppression, that is tightly stitched into society. As a white person, I have benefitted from this.
"Whilst we might feel that, as individuals, we're working hard internally to be anti-racist, we need to work harder externally to actively tackle the structural and institutional racism around us. I'm still learning about the many ways I unconsciously support and uphold a system that is structurally racist.
Over the coming days, I'll be using my bio link and Twitter to share links to resources I've found useful for my own researching, learning, listening. I see your anger, sadness, and pain. I cannot know what this feels like for you but it doesn't mean I won't try to."
There is no solidly right and wrong way to be a true ally. Emma Watson, like the rest of us, still has a lot to learn. But it seems she is committed to putting in that work and to using her platform to share helpful resources and amplify Black voices.
One Twitter user wrote, "The outrage behind Emma Watson for simply being silent and then putting a white border around a black image shows social justice mobs are after power and not solving issues. It begs the question, 'Do they truly care about the causes they're inconsistently outraged about?'"
No one should be above criticism. But if you are white, consider redirecting the energy you were going to put into slamming others and use into being a true ally and setting an example for others who really want to help.
If you are looking for ways to donate your time or money to Black Lives Matter and other antiracist organizations, we have created a list of resources to get you started.