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How Social Graphics Have Bolstered the Black Lives Matter Movement

Following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others, the rampant anti-Black racism, police brutality and systemic injustice in America has become clearer than ever. The New York Times recently reported that Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in U.S. history, and recent polls suggest that 15 to 26 million Americans have attended protests this summer.

In 2013, Twitter was a key platform when the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was launched—and now, in 2020, Instagram has emerged as a similarly powerful platform for activism. Within the U.S., Instagram now has nearly twice as many users as Twitter. Many have used the platform to learn about protests to attend, and they’ve shared real-time footage of police violence as it unfolded. And with its emphasis on images, graphics, and video, Instagram has become a powerful tool for thoughtful, nuanced conversations about racism and racial identity, creating a massive communication channel between educators like Ibram X Kendi and nearly anyone with a smartphone.

Today, shareable graphics have become one of the most powerful ways for creators to distill and amplify critical information about race and Black-led initiatives. Let’s look at four examples to examine what makes them so successful.

“10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship,” by @mireillecharper

Not only does the 10-step headline of the above graphic convey clear, direct actions to take in support of Black communities, its clean design helps bolster the sense that a complex topic is being simplified for anyone who feels they don’t know where to start. And beyond the headline, the contents of the carousel pushes people past social moments like #BlackOutTuesday (June 2), which some regard as nothing more than virtue signaling and performative allyship—and informs people how to engage in tangible, substantive acts of support.

“6 Ways to Activate Beyond Social Media” by @jezzchung

The clean “If you want to…” structure of the above graphic points users to different ways to take direct action beyond their Instagram timelines. And in a subtle way it emphasizes that taking direct action doesn’t have to mean participating in a protest, which, depending on one’s personal situation, physical abilities or emotional capacity, may or may not be option. The graphic gives people donation options, films to watch and books to read. Implicitly, the graphic also implies that raising one’s own race-consciousness is an ongoing project.

“What Is Environmental Racism?” by @cove

Unlike the previous two graphics, this example doesn’t direct users to additional resources, but is itself the resource, offering a single, clear lesson. Aside from showing up physically in support of Black lives, many are also examining how racism permeates every part of our lives: the makeup of our workplaces, the communities we live in, our friend groups, our education, the products we buy. By starting this post with a question, many may realize they don’t know the answer, and will click through to learn more about yet another aspect of systemic racism they might not have yet considered.

“So You Want to Talk About Trans Rights” by @soyouwanttotalkabout

June marked Pride month, and as it took place this year in conjunction with ongoing protests, there was a long overdue spotlight shone on the disproportionate violence perpetrated against Black trans women in America. By offering a guide to specific terminology and facts around the killing of Black trans women, this graphic inherently raises an important question about who exactly is included when we say Black lives matter—and because the @SoYouWantToTalkAbout account covers a wide range of issues, this post is more likely to reach someone who may not be aware of the issues Black trans women face. First up: dispelling any taboos around terminology, which helps anyone who feels uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the topic to move past those feelings.

With their emphasis on distillation, visual appeal and conversational clarity, Instagram carousel posts such as these have played an undeniable role in leading Americans to share, reflect, educate and take direct action in support of Black lives.

And as we enter an uncertain era, many wonder whether we’re amid a unique historical moment in which we’ll truly transform our organizations, structures and systems to be racially equitable, or if non-Black Americans will eventually direct their attention elsewhere once again. Perhaps social graphics will continue to help ensure the momentum isn’t extinguished.


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