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Why #BlackoutTuesday became a symbol of empty brand gestures

On its face, it was a simple message of solidarity and support. In white text over a black background, L’Oreal Paris posted to Instagram, “Speaking out is worth it,” as well as a blank black square. Along with millions of people a year ago today, the global cosmetics giant was participating in #BlackoutTuesday, in which users filled social feeds with black squares as a sign of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The pretext was about speaking up against racism. But for many of the more than 950 brands that posted a black square, it amounted to an empty gesture. Critics quickly pointed out that some of the companies that posted black squares had lousy track records of their own. Take model Munroe Bergdorf, who had been fired by L’Oréal Paris as a spokesperson in 2017 after speaking out about unconscious racism in the wake of the Charlottesville protests and white supremacy marches.

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