From left: Angel Locsin, Kerry Washington, and Solenn Heussaff are just some of the celebrities that have participated in the black and white challenge. Photo from official Instagram account
Culture Spotlight

Before you post that selfie, here’s what you should know about the black-and-white challenge

A little primer for all those BW photos you’ve been seeing on your feed. BY JACS T. SAMPAYAN
ANCX | Jul 28 2020

If you’ve been active on social media the past couple of days, your feed might be dominated by three things: snarky remarks about yesterday’s SONA; widespread, up-in-arms protestations against a woman cooking rice on BBC; and a good number of Facebook and Instagram friends posting a black and white photo of themselves along with a simple, two-word caption: “Challenge accepted.”

It’s hard to ignore that last one as even the likes of actresses Kerry Washington and Jennifer Garner, models Ashley Smouter and Cindy Crawford, and (insert descriptor here) Khloe Kardashian have put out their own posts in support of this challenge. (As a side note, it seems that many of the posts of these high-profile names were because of a tag by Vanessa Bryant, the widow of basketball star Kobe Bryant, who passed away earlier this year.) Locally, the likes of Solenn HeussaffMaine Mendoza, and Angel Locsin have participated. Apparently, 3.7 million photos have been posted on IG using the hashtag #ChallengeAccepted.

I asked one of my closest friends earlier today what it’s all about after she posted her own, and she simply replied, “women building up other women (on IG).” A search on Google traces this challenge to a socmed campaign in 2016, which was aimed at creating awareness for the battle against cancer. Some say it resurfaced because of a recent development in US politics involving Alexandra Ocasio Cortez. Presumably, as many shared the video of AOC’s response to sexist remarks by fellow congressman Ted Yoho against her, it led to more posts about female empowerment, thus making it easier for the challenge to become viral again.

But many also insist that this most recent version of the challenge started as a protest against the rampant violence done to Turksih women. Triggered by the brutal murder of a 27-year-old student named Pinar Gültekin, it was meant to mimic the black and white photos of the victims of femicide in the Eurasian country. As Turkish Twitter user @Imaann_patel explains in a post, this was to "stand in solidarity with the women we have lost. To show that one day, it could be their picture that is plastered across news outlets." Posts coming out of Turkey used to carry the hashtags #kadınaşiddetehayır and #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır, which mean “Say no to violence against women” and “Enforce the Istanbul convention,” respectively. 

Four years ago, the challenge gained traction but also created confusion, since many of the posts had a sparse caption that did not provide a lot of context or information about the cause it was purportedly promoting.

Many are similarly bothered and bewildered by this recent iteration. Taylor Lorenz, a writer for the New York Timespenned a piece that was filled with a somewhat-veiled contempt for it, featuring words like “benign,” “vague,” and a peppering of rolling-eyes double quotations in the article’s body. “Like the black square, which became a symbol of solidarity with Black people but asked very little of those who shared it, the black-and-white selfie allows users to feel as if they’re taking a stand while saying almost nothing,” she writes. “Influencers and celebrities love these types of ‘challenges’ because they don’t require actual advocacy, which might alienate certain factions of their fan base.”

Lorenz, who covers technology and internet culture for NYT, mentioned that other critics of the challenge say that those who post can do better for empowering women by doing something more practical: unfriending abusers in their lives. The writer also quoted New New Thing CEO Brooke Hammerling who said that while she’s a hundred percent for women supporting women and grateful for those who nominated her, she doesn’t get how a black-and-white selfie equals support. “If we could do portraits of the women who inspired us, that would be a little bit more in line with what this is trying to accomplish,” said Hammerling. 

There are also those who say the campaign should have been more inclusive—although a look over my own feed shows that both women and men of different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds have been participating in the challenge.

Whether it succeeds in its goal of awareness or not, we believe it’s a tad reductive and, well, mean for its critics to say this is nothing more than a poor excuse to post a hot selfie. Maybe many of those who participated really wanted to express their intention to further empower women, to show their solidarity—and there’s no doubt many just came along for the ride out of vanity or peer pressure. To say that vanity is the whole intention of every single person who participated in this social media exercise is unfair and untrue. We believe in seeing both sides of the story, as much as we believe that every time we take on a “challenge,” we at least need to know why we’re doing it.

*This article has been updated to include an explanation about the challenge's possible roots in Turkey.

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