The Issue of Performative Activism

Photo from weforum.org

After the horrific death of George Floyd on May 25, worldwide protests have called for justice when it comes to the countless of Black lives taken by police brutality. Many people across the U.S. have used their platform to speak up on social media, protest against the injustice and fight to bring about change. While many people have taken the right steps towards helping the Black Lives Matter movement, many others think that a repost is enough to constitute as activism.

This notation of just reposting BLM graphics, especially if it fits your feed, without protesting, donating, signing petitions or acknowledging your own privilege is not activism. It’s a trend — otherwise known as performative activism, aka performative allyship.

But what exactly is performative activism? According to an article by Holiday Phillips, to understand what performative activism looks like, we must first understand what a good ally looks like. An ally is “someone from a nonmarginalized group who uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group.” Whereas, performative allyship is “when someone from that same nonmarginalized group professes support and solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful or that actively harms that group.”

Over the course of last few weeks, social media has been flooded with performative activism. One of the most notable forms of performative activism has been “Blackout Tuesday,” a social media movement that involved posting a black square that signify solidarity with the Black community.

Artists support 'Black Out Tuesday' amid widespread protests
Photo from nypost.com.

While the concept behind “Blackout Tuesday” wasn’t ill-intended, it reinforced the concept that reposting something as simple as a black square to your Instagram is enough activism. Instead, it hindered important information spread across social media using the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, and diminished the complexity behind the movement. As a white person, posting a black square with just an emoji or the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, and then immediately posting vacations pics with your friends or what you had for lunch is not activism; instead, it reinforces your privilege to stay silent.

Other forms of performative activism across social media, especially when it comes to celebrities, influencers and major brands, have sparked outrage across the country. While many celebrities have used their privilege to make donations, protest and use their platform to speak up, many white celebrities and influencers have been using the Black Lives Matter protests as a photo-op and were called out on Twitter for their staged photoshoots.

Celebrities, such as Kylie and Kendall Jenner, who have arguably profited off of Black culture, as well as many other white celebrities, participated in Black Lives Matter Instagram story chains, as a way to “spread awareness” — completely disregarding their white privilege.

From Kendall Jenner photoshopping herself to make it seem as if she was protesting to Lea Michele coming under fire for racist remarks to multiple brands, such as L’Oreal, Brandy Melville and Dollskill, getting exposed for previous racist behavior and insensitivity, it’s obvious that performative activism is a major issue. And, it takes more than just a verbal commitment to enact change.

Performative activism isn’t just prevalent when it comes to brands. Your friends, family and even you may be a culprit of performative activism and it’s your duty to understand the complexity behind your privilege and the Black Lives Matter movement. Don’t just repost something regarding the BLM movement because your friends are or you want recognition for being on the “right side of history.” Speak up — and not just on Instagram. Fight for change by protesting, making donations and educating yourself. Activism should not be a performance.

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