What is Blackout Day 2020? Exploring the July 7 shopping boycott.

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The Blackout Day on July 7 isn’t the same as the movement that caused Instagram to be covered in black squares last month. This latest Blackout Day isn’t about social media at all. Rather, it’s about the power of money and how we choose to spend it.

With the mid-pandemic economy as volatile as it is, every dollar is particularly valuable. On July 7, organizers are asking people to refrain from spending a single cent anywhere (except at Black-owned businesses, more on that below) to call attention to systemic racism and police brutality.

The effectiveness of the black Instagram squares remains a point of debate. But no matter how you slice it, the July 7 economic blackout gives folks a much more concrete way to make a dent in the unjust status quo.

Here’s everything you need to know about #BlackoutDay2020 on July 7: How it started, what its goal is, and how you can participate.

How did #BlackoutDay2020 come about?

A YouTube video by organizer Calvin Martyr can be thought of as the official spark of #BlackoutDay2020. Martyr, who founded the Blackout Coalition and has racked up 1.7 million followers on Facebook, called for not a single Black dollar to be spent on July 7, including on groceries and at restaurants. 

“The only way that we as a people will get any change is if we unite solidarity with the dollar,” Martyr said in the video. “We spend one trillion dollars in this economy every year. We are a nation of people within this nation. We keep it going.”

An earlier rendition of the hashtag, #BlackoutTuesday, marked the June 2 Instagram blackout that saw millions of users abstaining from the social media sites to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Blackout Tuesday started as a day of action in the music industry with the hashtag #TheShowMustBeStopped but was quickly adopted by Instagram users. Thus, the black square was born — over 14.6 million of them, to be exact.

But if Blackout Day feels more familiar than a month-old hashtag, that’s because it is. Neither of the aforementioned movements are to be confused with #BlackoutDay, which originated in 2015 and has been used to celebrate and promote the visibility of Black identity through posting selfies. This Twitter thread by 2015 organizer Mars Sebastian explains the differences between the hashtag at its birth and the hashtag now. 

Though the original organizers of #BlackoutDay had no role in facilitating Calvin Martyr’s #BlackoutDay2020, it’s important to remember that they were key to Blackout Day’s evolution.

Why is #BlackoutDay2020 important?

Money talks, and the July 7 blackout is meant to show the true power of the Black dollar.

A 2018 Nielsen Report estimated that the spending power of Black consumers adds up to $1.2 trillion per year. If every Black person (and allies) abstained from shopping for a day, the effects of a single 24-hour spending boycott could be noticeable.

The movement not only calls for a pause in purchases that contribute to that system, but for the money to be put back into the Black community. “In order to break free from the chains of financial servility, we will organize days, weeks, months, and years if necessary when not one Black person in America will spend a dollar outside of our community,” the site explains.

Supporting Black-owned businesses — no matter what the day — is a more productive method of support than an Instagram post, and the significance of financial power (or lack thereof — see the systemic racial wealth gap) cannot be overstated as an important link in the chain for racial equality. 

In 2018, that Black women earned only 61 cents for every dollar earned by white men (adding up to over $23,000 less in annual earnings). In early 2019, Business Insider reported that out of the current Fortune 500 CEOs, only four are Black. None are Black women. These financial and career-related inequalities have much deeper ties than a single person can uproot, but using personal spending power to strengthen Black economies and call attention to the racial wealth gap is a powerful move consumers can make over and over again.

Coronavirus has further highlighted the effects that systemic racism has on Black-owned businesses. A report from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that about 41% of Black-owned businesses went under in April. By comparison, only 17% of white-owned businesses had the same fate.

This year sits at the intersection of a massive, global increase in participation in the Black Lives Matter movement and an international health crisis. As protests continue across the country, social distancing guidelines and grave health concerns (on top of regular personal schedules) pose a participation barrier for many folks who would like to, but can’t. An economic blackout is a way for people to protest with their pockets. If you’re sick, can’t get off of work, or otherwise can’t attend a protest in-person, the simple act of not spending money on a specific day is tangible way to get involved.

WATCH: Want to donate to help the Black Lives Matter movement? Here’s how.

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Some brands and banks are standing alongside consumers

Though Blackout Tuesday on June 2 was mostly focused on solidarity and spreading information through social media, brands like Fenty Beauty and Lucky Brand participated by not conducting any business that day.

The idea of using consumer spending to send a message also has the support of OneUnited Bank, the largest Black-owned bank in the United States. CEO Kevin Cohee believes that a change is already in motion and that #BlackoutDay2020 is a crucial next step.

“I would absolutely call that [spending power] the new tool of activism,” Cohee said. “If you want to change the behavior of a corporation, what more could you do than affecting their money?”

Cohee believes that #BlackoutDay2020 is the manifestation of the work of groups like the Niagara Movement, which spent the early 1900s demanding equal economic opportunities for the Black community and setting the stage for Black-owned financial institutions that would channel and protect those opportunities. “The Black community sees banking as a cornerstone of the cycle of those economic resources and as a way to gain social, economic, and racial parity,” he said.

“Blackout Day 2020 is an exercise of power,” says Kevin Cohee, CEO of OneUnited Bank

The importance of Black people receiving mortgage services, opening a credit account, and making monetary decisions with a bank that represents their interests was brought to light with the #BankBlack movement, which celebrates its fourth anniversary in September. Netflix’s June 2020 decision to shift $100 million to financial institutions that focus on Black communities shows how big, global brands are (finally) noticing these issues, too. (Some activists labeled the entire first week of July as National Blackout Week, with the first day’s theme being to open an account with a Black-owned bank.) 

The power of the internet

As #BlackoutDay2020 becomes another digital fold in the modern civil rights movement, Cohee reflects on the internet’s role in such widespread mobilization: 

“The internet organized Black Americans and our allies, and #BlackoutDay2020 is an example of using that organization to get corporations and governments to engage in necessary change. Where you spend money is important and where you don’t spend it is important,” Cohee said.

“#BlackoutDay2020 is an exercise of power that says to the broader community, ‘Black Americans are part of what we [corporations and government entities] all do, and we have to be treated fairly and be taken into account. You can no longer have boards of directors with no Black people on them. You can no longer have senior management teams with no Black people on them. You have to put money back into our communities like you put money back into other communities.”

Cohee isn’t the only one who looks forward to the internet-led movements we’ll see in the future. #BlackOutDay2020 organizer Calvin Martyr told KHOU-11 (a Texas-based CBS affiliate) that this one-day boycott is just the start. He hopes to organize future blackouts to last for weeks, months, or even years.

How to show your support

You already know the main way to participate in #BlackoutDay2020: Keep your wallet closed.

However, if you’d like to put some money back into the Black community, finding Black-owned businesses to support (today and any other day) is a powerful, personal step you can take. There are multiple websites and apps dedicated to directing people to Black-owned businesses and products: Check out SupportBlackOwned.com or download the EatOkra app to find Black-owned restaurants and food services in your area.

For a list of some Black-owned businesses you can support directly, go here.