OPINION: Not Just a Black Square

OPINION: Not Just a Black Square

Are you 4real? What is your true identity? If you’re in a band and those questions freak you out, here’s another: what are you going to do today? Yeah, June 3rd. Y’know, the day after #TheShowMustBePaused.

The massive platform that is Radiohead‘s FaceBook page has altered its profile pic to black, complete with a matching shade of dark void. No hashtags, no links, no nothing. Hang on, I’ll go check again. May have changed, right?

Nope, nothing but black.

No link to this: https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

Let alone this (surely on brand for Thom Yorke, no?): https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/dyzva7/a-white-man-from-illinois-allegedly-brought-bombs-to-start-a-riot-at-the-minneapolis-george-floyd-protest

Head over to The Beatles Facebook page and they’ve done the same thing, although they’ve gone a step further and used THAT hashtag. No links to resources though. Absolutely nothing. In fact at 02:56AM, The official Beatles page has stopped short of changing their profile pic or cover photo. Nope, just a photo upload. Or should we label the move a photo op? We couldn’t get more lazy or more opportunistic if George Floylds body was wheeled out to take a selfie with Ringo, performing his two finger V for victory sign. Whoever’s running that page ought to be spoken to by someone who gives a fuck.

Maybe with a bit of quick editing, the post would feature something U.K based seeing as they’re a British entity:

The remaining two Beatles probably have no idea how that campaign is being run. I give it a week before comments revert to Lennon’s introduction of Ono to the band’s practices as being the main topic of conversation, when it could have been so much more than unpracticed electioneering.

It’s this kind of empty tokenism I fear. The ungainly shepherding of one fanbase after another into groupthink:

I just have to change my pic and share it with I love Radiohead’

… or some shit. Please don’t tell me that everyone is going to see such fare and start down the tunnel of self-research.

Sure, there are good people among you who will share a treatise or two on black suffering, but without actively encouraging fans to do so I despair that potential dialogue won’t occur effectively.

The genius of capitalism is to provide consumers the evidence of a soul, and in this case – mark my words – that soul is pretending to care about George Floyd’s family.

I propose alternative or rather, more effective measures.

Normalise nuanced articles by sharing them alongside your meals, your ten fav list pics, your fav Marvel movies and yeah, your records that you want people to buy. Let what is true now sit uncomfortably beside lesser posts beyond the time at hand. If we don’t seek to normalise the reveal of the ugly and vile then we contribute to hiding it, or waiting for the bias of capitalism to benefit from its appropriation.

Detail how important Radiohead and other big bands platforms are in sharing info, glorious education for people to disseminate on their own networks. How about the link to the gofundme page of you know who? I mean, a photo change makes for a powerful statement of intent, but easily becomes far more tokenistic than a razor brand creating an advert about toxic masculinity.

At least Gilette worked on its own image, whereas many bands will follow Radioheads’ melodramatic and wasted example. These musicians are complicit in conditioning their audience to make empty gestures, sharing King’s speech, the new cringefest of a meme, some Marvel endorsed Captain America art (Don’t look up the Superman one from D.C. It doesn’t send out the right message), or at least less militant investigations. Yes, this is the time for insightful proactive work. No, because you’re white doesn’t mean being silent is a sign of respect for murdered black people. Silence is … well, you ought to know what silence is by now.

I’m surrounded by platforms caught up in the widespread collective salute of capitalism’s crafty re-appropriation of solidarity. I get the earnestness to fit the narrative (who doesn’t want to do right by the deaths of innocents?), but after June 2nd passes, the industry can pat itself on the back and sell even more records. Bands, promoters, blogs, pundits and mags, all wanton sculptors in the grand facelift of the music industry as soulful and compassionate. You may read this post days after the event, maybe weeks and see for yourselves how these issues became old news for aforementioned outlets of change.

Exploitation never seemed so obvious.

Go on, dust off your Public Enemy or your Rage Against the Machine record and play it in the garden, share a pic of George Floyd, or even the video of his last moments. Top it all off by having a long and detailed conversation about being better than some brexiter, because they didn’t share a motherfucking photo of someone you’ve used to highlight how woke you are.

The ALL IS LOVE: AF GANG (IDLES Community) fanpage lifted an unnecessary policing/removal of BLM posts yesterday. Doing the 180 was a damn good move. It was the right thing to do. Let’s say it loud and clear, the blackout da is more style over substance. Sharing a heartfelt post with a hashtag isn’t enough. Share links. Illustrate your desire to share that picture of six or so black men shielding a lone police officer from an angry mob (not a made up example, it’s on my profile page on FB). Make the people who live within this matrix of social media due to the pandemic see posts on their feeds they may not have access to.

Share something that moves you on June 3rd, 4th, 5th. Let the subject be as relevant to your feeds as your favourite food. You can post both. One does not cancel the other.

Seriously, we know how Facebook works. You will add people that confirm your bias, but you’ll also inherit family members who don’t. Senior generations voted one way UK elections likely picture this movement with far less nuance. Band pages have ‘reach’ that one pundit, one fan, one friend of a friend doesn’t have. We know how this works, and yet, bands as massive as U2 with their global influence are not under any verbal/internet based mandate to share in a concerted way, no prescribed system beyond the fucking flag waving, casual virtue signal, empty gesture.

Yes, go check out U2’s social media today. What do you see? No, I won’t tell you, but you can guess, go on.

O.K, full disclosure: I’ve just laughed out loud upon my visit upon the site just now. Time is now 03:29. No posts cover the recent troubles at all. I guess Bono’s history of such efforts leave him in a damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. I suspect he wanted to but the speech he wrote is just a bit much. Anyway …

Individuals have only so much power, but the bands? The fucking counter-cultural entities that for the most part are incredibly articulate in sharing gender inequality, or ecological concern have ranged from outspoken to non-active.

I’m not exhausted by private message chats where white musicians voice concern of hijacking space for black activism in music. Had a wonderful chat with my friend Justine who said, ‘social media is like yoga; it takes practice to get it right.‘ I posited that there can be no harm in someone who looks like her and someone who looks like me talking about ways to prescribe activism. Exhausted? Hell no, I’m not. I’m outraged, if not completely mystified by people who have said one thing off and onstage, seemingly consistent characters who now forgo opportunity and access to express knowledge. They can use info, fundraising pages, reading lists, hashtags, articles and at the very least, open the conversation up for fans to engage. Silence is deafening.

Must one wait for NOVA TWINS before they do something (as if they wouldn’t, and how good were their posts)? Must one watch from the side and decide that Saint Agnes doing something means it’s now O.K? Desperate Journalist, Jessica Winter, Barbarella’s Bang Bang, We Can Do It, Brujx, Joyzine, Public Pressure, Shame made a post days ago with links and a statement that illustrates how to make your platform count.

Even if only a couple hundred of their fans go on to be a force for good due to worthy inspired words, that’s more work done in our fight (yeah, it’s our fight) to bleed the ignorance out of society. Healthy Junkies need not have got back to me within seconds and posted shortly afterwards. Look how big their fanbase is, and yet there was no thirty minute Zoom meeting constituting critical analysis on the sharing procedure. Sad there’s now a day’s worth of bands asked to DO NOTHING WHICH IS IN ITSELF HANDCUFFS UPON A MOMENT WHICH COULD BE MORE PROACTIVE. A concerted effort to not sell merch – cool – fine. A concerted effort not to post anything?

Hmmm. Oh fucking kay then.

Devil’s advocate time: we get insightful posts for weeks afterwards where testimonial after tear soaked confession is linked to a book, a study an inspirational video. This provides a longer more sustained look at systemic racism which fundamentally alters the consciousness of culture in America.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s far from fucking hard to give a shit beyond one day. Don’t let it be about today and then done.

What if the music industry collectively suggested there be one day a month to recognise what’s going on? Such unlawful killing happens far more regularly (go, do your research) but twelve collective pushes a year from the industry would mean far more than this one-off. Sure, there will be an annual day named after George (perhaps wishful thinking, but let’s go there), but like Christmas, the occasion doesn’t really fit the sentiment – uh uh … it’s still beholden to the rebranding of the machine via it’s many symbiotic candidates, all vying to pierce beyond the outer wall.

Hey, silent bands! Where the hell is the fight you exhibit in interviews, lyrics, dresscode, stance on Trump, anger at Brexit, commentary on safe spaces, coalition with bands of colour, fundraising shows, marches, charity singles and indeed, the idea of punk rock being a klaxon for revolution? I love your music, but your silence is … yeah, you know.

For the record, I believe in incremental change. Arguably, seemingly, bands seek deep access to the heart of the cold organism. Hopefully to corrupt it and not merely to playact within trappings documented by Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins. I digress.

I’m not asking for too much. The people who look like me cannot be worth so very little.

Designate a single post with links for donations and education. Show people posts by VICE, BuzzFeed, even the fucking The Evening Standard Magazine which point to the number of groups (some of them white supremacist) who freely STOKE FIRES OF VIOLENCE IN STATES THEY DON’T LIVE IN FOR THEIR OWN AGENDA.

Yes, we must dispel the idea that it’s all the angry black people fighting the good natured white police in the protection of black homes. Maybe the truth is more sinister? Indie rockers in positions of influence, unaware of why #blacklivesmatter. So why should they use power to spread the word, I mean, how many people look like me attend their gigs? Principles being radius sensitive are technically not principles.

When someone tells me about sexual discrimination, my job isn’t to qualify them, but to listen to their story and ask ‘what can I do to help?’

When a black music pundit messages you about using your platform in an effective way about shared ideals, your job isn’t to qualify them, but to listen and ask ‘What can I do to help?’

Fuck it.

Don’t use the platforms you have for a day to sell your wares.


Look at your posts and keep the limp attempts of The Beatles, Radiohead and fuck knows how many other in mind. Does it do more than just label you as one of the good guys, or have you found a link or article that genuinely inspired you/could affect those seeing one narrative with some truth far more accurate? No? Then sort it out.

Go on your blackout for 24 hours. Educate yourselves and talk about recent events. It’s cool, but do remember this: A week from now the capitalist machine will be in overdrive, guilt free and token gestured out. All the money supposedly lost today WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN CREATIVELY MANAGED TOWARDS MANY RECEIVERSHIPS OF THE CAUSE, all gone. The mags, the bands (well-meaning and the fake artists), and the creatives will have been granted a global license to move on. And some of them would have shared effectively after speaking to other bands about collaborating in sharing schemes across all platforms.

You know, actually working together beyond looking out for where their brand as an island fits in with things. I think I’ll be more hopeful once someone reads, really takes all this anger in and does something useful with it. Especially misunderstanding people who think the issue will vanish from relevance once the unrest stops. But yeah, some ought to read a book right now, return on Wednesday 3rd June, hopefully willing to engage with online crowds with more than a blacked out picture and a hashtag as their offering. Perhaps that was always the plan, but from a variety of badly tagged posts with little to no flair, it’s safe to say some people will return on Wed 3rd June with a business as usual mindset. They did their job with the cosmetic update on the 1st, right? Those people will have even less to say than now.

To you I say prove me wrong. Or better still, prove yourself.

Some would have sparked awareness and debate creatively, beyond THAT picture change, their tactless Ringo V for victory hand posture. Some would have cut their true identity into their history by being 4real.

  1. Hmmm…. bit of a Radiohead fact check needed on this: “No hashtags, no links, no nothing. Hang on, I’ll go check again. May have changed, right? Nope, nothing but black.”

    Not true- check their posts on Facebook/Twitter and Instagram – they are still there.
    Following a music industry wide appeal, the hashtag #theshowmustbepaused was included on the black tiles and also a link to https://www.theshowmustbepaused.com, which in turn offers links to people interested in knowing more. Same link in all bios too.

    On Tuesday, They also closed down their youtube channel, their store and their website (replacing all with #theshowmustbepaused and linking to the site of the same name.

    I can’t imagine they feel they can speak with much authority about what its like to be oppressed because of the colour of their skin, but at least they can point people towards those who can.
    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

  2. Thanks for your comment.
    At the time of posting this staus to FB (that’s where this article was lifted from) there were no hashtags or links.

    Someone has obviously pointed that out.

    So, are we going to debate how tough it is for Radiohead to have a voice, or are we going to address the tokenism?

    Go have a look at what their profile page looks like right now on Thursday 4th June 16:06.

    Apparently It’s O.K to start anew with business as usual.

    My reading on this situation is still the same.

    ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?’

    They have a platform with influence and are capable of understanding what thier actions will inspire others to do in a token way. To deny that is to protect said actions which amount to profiteering from black murder.

    I would read the article again if my aforementioned point on the picture change back isn’t understood within the contect of the nature of social media and its power.
    I hope to hear from you once that gesture is made.
    Cheers for reading.

  3. I’m not arguing about any conclusions you draw from this, all I ask if that if you are to focus your whole argument around Radiohead then it should be your journalistic duty for it to be correct please. Links and hashtags on the original post, from 12.01 on 2nd June as you will be able to see.

  4. Let’s be blunt.

    You care about Radiohead’s image so much that you have not considered that the points raised in the piece have failed to elicit commentary.

    Let’s be factual.

    The picture I saw at the time of writing had no attachments to it. I was writing the post in the closing hours of June 1st up until the early hours of June 2nd and after heading back there a minute ago, I can safely confirm that the cover photo is a black void and though there is a hashtag on the profile pic, the circular display on a laptop screen dismisses said text upon viewing.

    Make a note of this, the time of uploading a picture dies not and never has included time stamps of edits to said picture.

    So, with my accountability questioned and Radiohead’s image being talked about, I’d think your passion for the ponts you deem inarguable might be worth stating now, unless of course Radiohead and the defence of thier stance is more worthy to talk about.

    Keen to know your thoughts.

  5. Note: the editorial team uploaded my status on FB onto this platform for you to read.

    I can direct you to the initial status which declares when I published it.

    We have no idea when the links were added to the cover pic or profile pic of Radiohead’s FB page.

    ‘What are you going to do today?’

    Was originally ‘What are you going to do on June 3rd?’ as pertaining to the time of my post on June 2nd 06:54am.

    My rather unconcealed anger and any sloppiness on my account being documented, I ask again, and do think on this in light of all of the above, what do you think of the other points on display? How did they strike you? Will you be doing anything differently in your life moving on?

    My piece does not hinge on the 24 hour tokemism of one band.
    Read the piece again, and let’s not lose sight of the real issue or reconstruct the narrative to make one band seem unfairly treated.

    They are not the victim.

  6. What topic? Black Lives Matter or Radiohead’s response to Black Lives Matter? Or both.

    Also, why on earth do you assume that I read the article?

  7. Feels super weird to be commenting a year later, but… I was Googling “black square” to literally find a picture of a black square. This article came up in my search results, and I was intrigued. I think I was expecting a dissenting opinion to Black Lives Matter, and morbid curiosity led me to open this page.

    Im incredibly happy to have been wrong. An already excellent opinion piece was made even more poignant piece by the fact that sitting here, 5 days shy of the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, and the support for BLM has fizzled. Or, at least, the widespread public acknowledgment that existed when this piece was written.

    I just wanted to say that even a year later, this piece really made me step back and reevaluate my role as an ally. Can I be doing more? Yes. Every day I can be. I read this once. Then a second time. Then read parts of it aloud to a friend. Because even as someone who attended protests, signed petitions, donated (and posted a black square), as someone who wants to be a fierce ally of BLM and POC, I have grown complacent in my activism in the last year.

    “If we don’t seek to normalise the reveal of the ugly and vile then we contribute to hiding it, or waiting for the bias of capitalism to benefit from its appropriation.”
    “ I’m not asking for too much. The people who look like me cannot be worth so very little.”

    These words are going to remain persistent in my brain, and they were right on time to have a reminder to call out hypocrisy and performative activism as the anniversary of Floyd’s death approaches.

    So, a year late, thank you for this. Excellent point, well made. For what it’s worth, you (and your use of your platform) has inspired at least one person to be better.

  8. Kat, thank you for sharing your thoughts on my article. My editor drew my attention to your post and I’ve often thought about how I would reply.

    Firstly, it’s a huge compliment that someone would feel moved enough to read this piece out aloud to a friend and feel inspired to reinitialise their efforts to be a better citizen. Great.

    My second thought that I’ll share points to this thing that we’re using to communicate, y’know, the internet. One year on from Black Out Tuesday has left me even more cynical about the way the medium can be used to reconfigure the reality of ourselves for the reception of others, let alone responsibly influence our communities. It’s for that reason that I’m far more invested in doing video communication on this, issues regarding gender and cultural upheavals. At least in talking to the person face to face there’s less room for doubt as to what they are all about.

    And yet, even then, once that person exits the zoom room/logs out, there’s no way of knowing what they might do to back up their talk of change. The anti-racist book club I joined have spoken about how to turn our discussions into more practical application. I think a good balance of steady academic application is still required for some to make offline/actual world proactivity useful. More on that another time. For now, the internet…

    A huge consideration on my part is how to clearly define myself offline and allow the internet to be less of a warped mirror than it potentially has been (and will probably continue to be). Once I’ve got my jabs and am able to feel comfortable going out and about in big crowds I’ll finally be able to be more of an activist than a pundit. It’s been easy for people to assume I’m the former due to varying aspects of their self-guilt or just through a lack of knowing me/investigation.

    You’re right about a fizzling out of posts. I’d like to think that such actions have migrated to real world interaction now that lockdown has eased as much as it has. That said, using my own networks as a barometer of action or inaction is somewhat biased based on who and why I’ve added people. Considering how many bands I’ve filmed that feature a white male demographic, it would stand to reason that there is sufficient enough data flowing through my platforms to give me a good indication of the concerns of such a people, and that’s not even counting fans, family and industry who choose to connect even passively in discussions on music and society. The radar can only travel so far though, and thus, assumption is used to fill in gaps. Tricky.

    I suspect that people who posted a lot of anti-racist material for the right reasons ran out of steam due to relying on info graphics, angry videos and articles like mine which – as much as multiple elements of those shares assist – don’t map out the history of capitalism’s darkest invention: race.

    Again, I must cite, I don’t know who is reading this or how they perceive this simulation of my voice. I don’t know if they are reading it for answers, clarification or idle curiosity. There’s only the hope that they catch up on vital histories that our primary and secondary education felt unfit to supply. After all, who wants to go through life living a comfortable streamlined version of their reality? What do we gain from interacting with people who can navigate conversations and commit to actions based on a greater understanding of the legacy of our past?

    Let’s face it, we’re all playing catch up, aren’t we? I’m less angry at bands and the music industry for tokenism than I am at the UK education system. I’m not an authority on US schooling, but considering some of the interactions I’ve had offline as well as on, there is a void, a black square if you will as to the creation of race, why it’s presence has shaped lives, polluted institutions and become acceptable on levels far more insidious than insults or violence. Critical race theory is an expansive area that can’t really be distilled by a meme or two. We all know that, but considering how racism has been positioned in conversations, considering the lack of critical thought from older right and left wing pundits, well, there’s a damn good reason why school kids deserve better education on the topic.

    I suspect that anyone who looks like me who saw a disparity at gigs/suffered from illogical and ill-informed caricatures on various underground scenes have reached some of my conclusions. I dare say that the internalised racism I still hold (which occasionally plays its part in my day to day dealings with my community) is shared by others.

    Interviews with PRIMITIVE IGNORANT continue to be truly cathartic. That being said, there’s a ton of bands who for want of a less hijacked term are ‘woke’ to the idea of being defined on their own terms rather than those of their white counterparts/community areas. They are a long way down the road and I feel heartened to have opened myself up to taking their lead and getting thoroughly academic in the time afford to me during this world crisis.

    The essays and video interviews submitted by members of BIG JOANIE have revealed nuanced understanding of the layers of social economic issues regarding race, class and politics. Check them out if you’ve yet to do so (a big thanks to friends who lent this pauper books and audio novels on race). Afropessimism by Frank Wilderson III was particularly interesting, funnily enough I discovered via a YouTube series that featured a member of BIG JOANIE (some astute critiques of it’s lack of cognisance on the topic of intersectionality. The YouTube channel is called Black as in Revolution). By the way, If anyone reading this is a promoter who feels they’ve unconsciously contributed to a less inclusive lineup, do check out the a playlist by NOVA TWINS.

    There’s more to be said here, how for instance, future lawyers, bankers, doctors, artists, politicians and yeah, police officers would influence interactions on issues of race with far more productivity if they were able to decode the situations which are informed by negative racial constructs.

    I’m sure that’s quite a bit to take in, as I’m aware that the firebrand attitude exhibited in the article has somewhat tempered here, if not focussed on criteria beyond tokenism. Its the internet. Tokenism is it’s lifeblood and there is only so much one can do to avoid falling into the trappings of such.

    I hope for the most part that this communication was positive. I was interviewed by an art Therapist for my thoughts a year on from Floyd’s death. It didn’t gain any traction on Facebook, but Instagram picked it up (isn’t it often the way these days/). If you want to hear that interview, let me know. The video talks I mentioned earlier are uploaded on YouTube via RantboxTV. The most constructive facet of last year’s conversation is that boundaries have been assessed by my familiars and hopefully, their own networks.

    For those who didn’t ask themselves questions and have just got on with other aspects of life I hold no heavy judgement. My anger is reserved for the government. I suspect some who felt the fire of many an extremist comment I made last year were patient and understanding of where such emotions were coming from. And yet, there were those who didn’t appreciate such rhetoric albeit aimed at the ramifications of rather than the main engine (don’t get me started on the Conservatives) dismissed certain statements as an overreaction. As I said, there’s more to be discussed here, bu this has become less of a comment than a follow on essay, and I trust the video form and the occupation of shared offline space more these days. Blame Baudrillard.

    Finally, If true coalition is to occur in order to inspire social change then it’s important to find what we have in common than to isolate the variables that push us apart. That said, we must not allow erasure of the past to be a remedy for such a coming together. Such a process of brushing items and events under the carpet is an easy facilitation in this society that is keen to propagate a post racial divide whenever it can. First with the ascendancy of Obama, and now a year after Floyd and Black Out Tuesday.

    Take care Kat, and may your efforts to get through this uncertain era of pandemic payoff.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.