We’re always learning new tidbits about queer history. If you thought those black squares on Instagram were anything new, then here’s a quick history lesson for you!
The black square has long been a symbol of bare minimum performative activism and it all began at the Stonewall Riots in New York City during the summer of 1969. The queer community stood up and struck back at officers during a raid at the Stonewall Inn, and people living nearby wanted to show their support. However, they also wanted to make sure their windows were covered and safe from any riot debris.
It wasn’t a person, but actually a residential management company called Smith & Hancock Apartments that decided the best way to stand up was to encourage its residents to post black, wooden squares to their windows.
As unearthed from found diaries, residents like Charlotte Wilson thought it was a rousing idea: “It’s great to bring the community together, even if just for a little, to do our part to end gay oppression. Now I can get back to watching Bonanaza while the riots continue outside. I did my part!”
Some felt pressured to post, including West Villager Mason Matthews. “I normally post notices about the good fight on the community bulletin, but I saw everyone else’s black squares and I didn’t want to look like an asshole.”
Public discourse promptly questioned whether the black squares were helpful or harmful to the movement. “I put up a black square. But then I was told protesters were running into the building because they confused the black square for a dark alley,” said Matthews in a later entry. “So then I took it down. Ugh, this is so difficult!”
Smith & Hancock Apartments stood by their decision to post the black squares. “I mean, it’s something, right? You’re welcome.”
While the history of Stonewall is filled with those giving their all and doing the most, we must also remember to give thanks to those who did just a little bit!