MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: UNDERSTANDING THE BLACK AND WHITE CHALLENGE
Over the past few days, social media platform Instagram, has been swarmed with black and white selfies of women—before eventually including men—with the caption, “challenge accepted”, garnering millions of colorless posts. But there's more to this trend than meets the eye.
Over the past few days, social media platform Instagram, has been swarmed with black and white selfies of women—eventually including men—with the caption, “challenge accepted”, garnering millions of colorless posts.
How it works is that a participant is tagged by a friend who posts a black-and-white photo of herself. The participant then posts her own and tags more women and “challenges” them to post their photos, so the cycle continues. To many, this campaign has been thought to have no organized call to action and no connection to a larger cause, a friendly online activity to pass time. However, this “trend” has a deeper, morbid cause to it than we think.
Recently, there surfaced a deeper explanation for the challenge’s roots—identifying its ties to Turkey, a country where women are murdered more than men with little to no justice. In 2019 alone, 474 women were murdered mostly by partners and relatives, making it the highest number in the country in a decade. Turkish women finally said enough is enough when recently, a local named Pinar Gultekin was brutally murdered in the hands of Cemal Metin Avci, her former partner whom she chose not to reconcile with.
Turkish women started posting black and white selfies in defiance of this brutal act of murder, and as a response to seeing only black and white photos of these murdered women everyday on television, newspapers, and social media—therefore adding a much grimmer layer to a “trend” that got so many to jump on board.
Instagram, of course, is a place where trends pick up fast in a span of days or even hours. While this is a big issue in Turkey, not many know the real cause of this challenge, thus treating it just as a usual women-empowerment-Instagram-fad where women, in an “exercise in vanity”, have the opportunity to post selfies… just that it’s in black and white.
Behavioral Scientist and Anti-Racism Educator, Dr. Priya Agarwal aired her thoughts on how this has become a mere trend for the rest of the world, saying in her post, “It is a very serious gesture of defiance in support of the Turkish Women (Turkey has one of the highest femicide rate), in support of Pinar Gultekin who was killed in the most violent manner, in support of every woman who has felt threatened and unsafe. This is a show of solidarity to say that we stand together, we are unafraid, we are fed up of the lack of accountability for the perpetrators.”
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Black and white selfies. It isn’t just a game of hot or not. Or an exercise in vanity. It is not just a mindless challenge that women are undertaking to post their sexiest snaps. These are some of the criticisms that this #challenge has faced. It is a very serious gesture of defiance in support of the Turkish Women (Turkey has one of the highest femicide rate), in support of Pinar Gultekin who was killed in the most violent manner, in support of every woman who has felt threatened and unsafe. This is show of solidarity to say that we stand together, we are unafraid, we are fed up of the lack of accountability for the perpetrators. This was started by Turkish women to say that they are appalled by the Turkish govt decision to withdraw from the Isanbul convention much like Poland. This is to say that no woman stands alone, we deserve to take up space, we are all #womensupportingwomen This is not just performative, this is hopefully not just tokenistic, this is for PINAR GULTEKIN. Say her name!! . (kindly tag me at the top if reposting) . #challengeaccepted . . . #pinargultekin #turkishwomen #westandtogether #domesticviolenceawareness #genderbias #genderinequality #shatterpatriarchy #blackandwhitephoto #selfie #womenempowerment #pınargültekin #empoweringwomen #genderequity #genderequalityforall #nooneisfreeuntileveryoneisfree #feminismisforeverybody #womenofcolor #turkishwomen #womenofcolour #kadinasiddetehayir #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır
However, in response to the “inaccurate” reports said about the challenge’s roots, New York Times writer Taylor Lorenz shared that the black and white challenge traces its origins years ago, in 2016, in a campaign for cancer awareness, supported by data dug by experts in Instagram and Facebook. It means that its sole root is not just this movement in Turkey, but many more in the past years, which explains how people in social media treat it as a mere trend which might eventually die down. But who knows?
Famous celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Paris Hilton, and Kristen Bell have posted their own black and white photos with their interpretation of the challenge being for women supporting women.
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Challenge accepted @jennychohair. Thankful for u, and all the women we know. All of them "Shapers". To quote @adamgrant : " 'Shapers' are independent thinkers: curious, non-conforming, and rebellious. They practice brutal, nonhierarchical honesty. And they act in the face of risk, because their fear of not succeeding exceeds their fear of failing." #womenempowerment #womensupportingwomen
Others like Padma Lakshmi incorporated racial injustices, including photos of black women who were murdered, their stories, and the involved officers’ status.
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TW: police brutality #challengeaccepted Here are four women we should be lifting up: Breonna Taylor (Louisville, KY) A beloved 26 year-old EMT, Breonna was murdered during a "no knock" raid when plainclothes officers shot her 8 times in her home. Status: @danieljaycameron's office is still reviewing the #BreonnaTaylor case. Only one officer was fired. Sandra Bland (Waller County, TX) 28 year-old Bland was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change. After refusing to put out her cigarette, Officer Brian Encina pointed a stun gun at her face, saying “I will light your ass up", dragged her out of the car & took her into custody. Sandra was found hanging in a jail cell three days later. Status: Encina was indicted on a charge of perjury on the false claim that removed #SandraBland from her car to more safely conduct a traffic investigation. This was later dismissed in exchange for the trooper’s promise that he would never again work in law enforcement. Sandra’s family settled in court. Natasha McKenna (Fairfax, VA) This 37 year-old mother with bipolar disorder/schizophrenia was taken from a hospital psychiatric ward & jailed in Fairfax for previously assaulting an officer during a schizophrenic episode. She was completely naked & in an episode when she was “extracted” from her cell & pinned to the ground by several officers. @fairfaxcountypd put her head in a hood, left the rest of her body exposed & tased her 4 times with 50,000 volts. Status: The deputies responsible for the death of #NatashaMcKenna faced no criminal charges. Her family settled in court. Michelle Cusseaux- (Phoenix, AZ) Michelle, a 50 year-old woman with bipolar disorder/schizophrenia was fixing her door when an officer Percy Dupra, came to do a mental health wellness check. She spoke with them through the gate, but refused to leave her home or consent to their entry, saying she was fine. They entered, Officer Dupra saw Michelle holding a hammer & shot her. Status: #MichelleCusseaux mother, Frances Garrett changed @phoenixpolice response to mental health calls. Dupra was demoted. Link in bio.
In the Philippines, actresses Angel Locsin, Bea Alonzo, Dimples Romana, among others, have chimed in on their own black and white entries.
While it is definitely a movement for women by women, the black-and-white challenge is an example of how a campaign like this becomes fluid to other movements as well, with social media right in our hands and it is up to us to give value to things we do in and out of social media.
Will this stay up or will it just be a trend that disappears with time? In the next years, a resurgence perhaps in the form of a different cause? No one knows.