It’s not every day that Jennifer Hudson, The Joffrey Ballet, Twista, Ministry and Liz Phair find common ground. But on June 2, they were among the Chicago artists and organizations that aligned in a one-day moment, #TheShowMustBePaused.
The worldwide effort, also called “Blackout Tuesday,” was organized by music industry veterans Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang in response to swelling protests over racial inequality and violence by police.
On Blackout Tuesday, participants—including artists, labels and other entities—suspended events like livestream performances and scheduled fan engagements. Many committed to repurposing that space to a conversation about race in America, and to discussing steps which may be necessary for positive social change. At the very least, others simply shared a black profile image on social media and went silent.
Some question the effectiveness of a single-day online campaign. “While I deeply appreciate the sentiment behind the blackout,” says musician-engineer Che Arthur, “I also feel that it’s barely a start. It’s a very easy, low-effort way for people to make a statement but statements [with more impact] can be made, and more lasting impressions as well. If tomorrow the industry goes back to everything as usual, I’m not sure the one day off will have done much.”
Vocalo host and producer Jill Hopkins-Olewnik says that the virtual space could have been put to better use. “Keith Richards posted a black square instead of posts to the Black music he was influenced by. That’s a missed opportunity in a time when large platforms like his could be informing and educating young fans and the loud and wrong Boomers who follow him on the roots of the art they have benefitted from,” she says. “The music industry silent space would be better used as a space to uplift. Use this time to be an amplifier, not a kill switch.”
Industry reflection and engagement continued through the week.
Hyde Park’s Court Theatre, which participated in Tuesday’s initiative, has continued to share online content amplifying African-American perspective in the days since. Artistic director Charles Newell and executive director Angel Ysaguirre have detailed ongoing efforts to demonstrate the organization’s commitment—resolving to “live out that solidarity by curating a series of discussions about the American theater, Court specifically, and issues of racial justice.” That content is on their website and social media channels. “Our hope is to provide digital space for these conversations and to do so in a way that accompanies what we’re doing on the stage, in our administration, and other parts of our community engagement.”
Programming for that ongoing conversation is key, says Arthur. “Venues, record labels, streaming services, and certainly many artists could stream or post links to documentaries about African-American culture, history and struggle,” he says. “They could show films about the Watts riots, Wattstax, Motown, the origins of hip-hop, the Tuskegee experiment, the Selma march, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Afro-punk, the Rodney King riots… If social progress is about winning hearts and minds and expanding horizons, these could be some ways to help that happen.”
Justin Wise of hip-hop duo Highest Low says that the movement already under way could be considered “only a highlight, as we continue to further organize. Demanding legislation, action, and accountability by the American government will not stop, and more actions of these sorts will be needed on a much bigger level.”
Therein lies the rub: it’s challenging to predict where the movement may take us.
“It’s hard to say, if people go back to the same habits and complacency after the protests die down, or if this is an actual long-overdue turning point,” Che says.”If people actually keep going, and keep listening, and actually donate to and volunteer for the organizations, then I think we can see some lasting progress.”
Blackout Tuesday organizers were sowing the seeds for a longterm revolution from the beginning. “This is not just a twenty-four-hour initiative,” #TheShowMustBePaused organizers said from its creation. “We are and will be in this fight for the long haul.”
Bill Furbee is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Cincinnati CityBeat, Detroit Metro Times, No Depression, Ghettoblaster, American Libraries magazine and other publications. He’s also a frequent contributor to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and a board member of the Cincinnati Music Heritage Foundation, and enjoys repairing pinball machines in his time off.