The looting and violence that has plagued US cities from Minneapolis to New York is a very long way from the glittering cocktail bar at veteran showbiz reporter Richard Wilkins’ Sydney home, but he, along with many other local famous faces, clearly felt compelled to post the black square last week from afar.
Cabaret queen Rhonda Burchmore, pop star Guy Sebastian, fashion designer Collette Dinnigan, drag queen Courtney Act, celebrity chef Neil Perry and many more from these shores – not known for their political activism – did the same.
Due to international datelines, Instagram’s Blackout Tuesday ended up running over two days in Australia last week, as more than 27 million people around the world posted their black squares, effectively dominating Instagram feeds.
But things began to seem a little trite when the likes of Real Houswives of both Melbourne and Sydney fame started getting in on the act. These celebrities are better known for confected cat fights than human rights.
By Wednesday the black square deluge had become borderline ridiculous, parlayed into other, somewhat less righteous causes, with luxury brands like Chanel jumping on the bandwagon.
Chanel’s black square on Instagram created more controversy than congratulations from the fashion house’s critics.
As for the celebrities, strangely not one of the aforementioned local names posted a single comment or note on something as equally important happening in their own back yard: Mabo Day.
What day you ask? Mabo Day occurs annually on 3 June. It commemorates the late Eddie Koiki Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander whose campaign for Indigenous land rights led to a landmark decision by the High Court of Australia. On 3 June 1992, the Court overturned the legal concept of terra nullius that had governed land and title since Captain James Cook arrived in 1770.
Not a peep from any celebrities about that.
Nor have they made much noise about Reconciliation Week, which also came to an end on Wednesday.
Despite royal commissions and endless protests, black deaths in custody, social and economic disadvantage, not to mention straight out racism of all creeds and colours, the plight of indigenous people remains a stain on Australian life.
Yet for the large part, most of our famous faces rarely talk about it, let alone acknowledge its existence. (Although props to The Project which devoted valuable airtime to the plight of Indigenous Australians in the wake of the US riots.)
Within 48 hours of it going live, the Blackout Tuesday campaign was being accused of hollow virtue signalling, especially when the big brands started getting in on the act.
Actor Rachel Griffiths learned the hard way when she posted an image of her new manicure, her first since going into COVID-19 lockdown, in a deliberately light-hearted despatch on Instagram amid a sea of black squares.
“Shallow I know … America is burning people are dying … but still it just seems easier on the soul to watch all this happening with beautiful nails,” she attempted to joke to her followers.
It backfired badly. Griffiths took the post down hours after uploading it, and offered an unconditional apology.
Perhaps it was former ABC newsreader Trish Goddard, a British black woman who experienced first hand the ugly side of racism in Australia when she dared read the news here in 1988, who summed up the black squares quandary best.
Goddard, who needed her own security when she fronted the ABC News bulletin and admitted that a lot of the racism she has experienced was during her years in Australia – a country she “loves” – wrote on Instagram: “Just posting a black square doesn’t f—ing cut it unless you’re doing the work”.
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.