When I go into (at least some) full screen app(s) the other display gets blacked out. An example is Zoom. Is there a workaround for this that would allow me to continue using the unused display for other applications?

Note there is a similar question here : Is there a way to run one application in Full Screen mode on one display and still be able to view and access applications on a second display? . However that question is very old (2012 OS/X Lion) and does not have any OS/X builtin answer but instead depends on a third party library.

I am on catalina on a macbook PRO.

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    Check System Prefs > Mission Control > Displays have separate Spaces. I can't test to be certain (because it totally messes up my carefully assigned Spaces) but with that off you get a blank 2nd screen & with it on you don't - as the other screen is a different Space. Alternatively, don't use fullscreen, just maximise instead.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 10 '20 at 17:05

Enable the setting System Preferences > Mission Control > Displays have separate Spaces:

Enable setting "Displays have separate Spaces"

It requires you to log out/back in, and then you will be able to use other displays as regular when an app is full screen in one of the displays.

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