Social media continues to play an enormous role in empowering minorities by giving them direct access
to online communities, publicity and freedom of speech. On March 6 2015, #BlackOutDay was trending on Twitter after it was launched by creators T’von, Marissa and Nukirk. They started this social media campaign to encourage Black people to upload selfies, GIFS and videos using the hashtag #BlackOutDay. #BlackOutDay intends to celebrate Blackness and challenge stereotypes of Black people portrayed by the media.
Soon, millions of people flooded Twitter with self-love and positivity, allowing the Black community to reclaim more and
more online spaces like Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook, and reaching media outlets like BuzzFeed
and the BBC. On their website, T’von stated that he wanted to give ordinary Black people their moment to shine and to be represented in the media. This movement is about challenging white- centric notions of beauty and saying loudly and proudly that Blackness is beautiful.
Positive narratives of Black people, diversity, and self-love are not what mass media is generally known for—so, naturally, #BlackOutDay was a huge success. The online community that was forged through #BlackOutDay and the support and love that shines through from Black people all over the world reveals just how meaningful this movement is.
Unfortunately, as YouTuber and Black activist Francesca Ramsey pointed out in her video on #BlackOutDay, the racist backlash was inevitable. To be clear: no, we DON’T need a White Out Day and yes, oppressed racial minorities can celebrate and take pride in themselves without it being racist! Take a look at our media: every day is White Out Day… and who colonised and enslaved whom, again? Ultimately, #BlackOutDay was received very positively, particularly in light of the events at Ferguson and the police murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many (many) more. Continuing to celebrate Blackness and reclaiming online spaces with positive narratives is an exciting win for African Americans and Black people who are all stereotyped, profiled and systematically discriminated against in modern society.
Similarly, #ReclaimTheBindi was a hashtag used in conjunction with #CoachellaShutDown to protest against the rampant appropriation of South Asian culture at Coachella music festival. Women who identify as South Asian, Desi and Hindu took selfies wearing bindis, some displaying their traditional dress, and celebrated their beauty and culture. The constant theme running throughout this campaign was that their culture is not a costume. Additionally, many pointed out the hypocrisy of traditional dress and cultural difference being a point of racism and discrimination for South Asian women, while bindis are seen as a mark of hipster fashion when adorning white bodies and faces.
Cultural appropriation is defined by its lack of consent, the absence of participation in a culture or community and the double standard applied when those in power use and abuse a culture.
White women at a music festival donning bindis and Native American headdresses as fashion statements show disrespect to the communities that these cultural items belong to by failing to consider the cultural significance of what they’re doing. They are not being used within the culture, as part of a ceremony or at the invitation of a person from that culture. The women almost definitely do not contribute to empowering these communities back home: if they did, they would know not to wear such items at a music festival. As white women, they hold the power and privilege to be seen as “edgy” and “fashionable” while wearing these cultural items, while millions of South Asians and Native Americans face discrimination when wearing traditional
It is worth noting that People of Colour or those also affected by racism can still be guilty of cultural appropriation by wearing or using cultural items that do not belong to their culture. For example, an East Asian woman would be appropriating an Indigenous culture if she dressed up in their traditional clothes for a party. This person is higher up on the racial hierarchy, and they are still perpetuating racism and enacting violence on a racially oppressed group.
The autonomy of the South Asian identity that underpins #ReclaimTheBindi is vital to the movement. It aims to take back online spaces and ownership of South Asian culture by South Asian women, to fight back against “fashion trends” that have co-opted their traditional and sacred cultural items, and last of all prove that South Asian girls absolutely wear it better. Brown bodies are beautiful, the South Asian community is strong, and #ReclaimTheBindi has shown just how fantastic social media movements can be.
Both of these hashtags show an exciting domination of social media with self-love, the creation of more online communities and empowerment for oppressed racial groups. Let’s hope that these movements continue, and that Indigenous, Black, People of Colour, Women of Colour and other racial minority communities can show the world that they are amazing!