The Issue with Performative Activism

  • September 17, 2020
Real activism includes using your time and voice to protest for justice.

Activism itself has been around for ages- women fighting for suffrage, the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King, and many other instances through time.

Yet, while activism of any kind is important, necessary, and potentially world-changing, there are many people who use it as a disguise for wanting praise, faking how much they care about social issues and using them to make themselves look better or “woke.”

After the murder of Georgle Floyd on May 25 of this year, the Black Lives Matter movement and others  surrounding it surged in participation and awareness across the country. People young and old marched the streets, protesting police brutality and enforcing racial justice. This also led to the discussion and effort to combat systemic racism as a part of the judicial system and economy in general.

Many young people are extremely sincere about their support for the movement, signing petitions, protesting, and spreading important information. There is immense effort from many people, both “famous” and not, and people are spreading awareness for these issues, sharing daily informational posts and articles for those who want to learn more.
However, many others, especially public online influencers, seem to have used this conflict as an excuse to feign concern and passion for these causes, doing and saying things that make no valid effort to aid important messages. 

Public figures displaying such an attitude will do these things as a way to seem more appealing and progressive in order to receive more support and praise, making the activism only performative. Even followers of these influencers will see this and act in the same way, not wanting to diverge from the crowd or be seen as “out of the loop.” This unfortunately allows for performative activism to stay prevalent in many online communities.

An example of this would be Tiktok videos of people singing along to an inspirational song while putting up the Black Lives Matter fist. Additionally, there was a “trend” on Instagram to post a black square for Black Out Tuesday in an effort to show solidarity for the Black Lives Matter Movement. This is an issue, because instead of doing something actually helpful like signing a petition or donating, people used this easy way to be excused from any other form of allyship. While some did both, the main problem was that this was the only course of action by many on social media. Also, popular celebrity Kylie Jenner participated in a chain of Instagram stories that used the Black Lives Matter hashtag in an effort to make a “connection” between people for the cause. She didn’t spread any petition links or donate money with this post, making her actions not very useful.

While these can be thoughtful gestures, oftentimes this is the limit for creators in terms of what they’re willing to do. They could be spreading and signing petitions, protesting, or donating, but they don’t. They use their lame attempt of being an ally to seem more likable and use tragedy to their advantage. 

This is incredibly problematic and stunts chances for true awareness.

Performative activism spreads the harmful idea that activism is simply showing support passively- when that’s not what real activism is.

Real activism is using your voice, privilege, and energy to do everything you can to help your community. It’s always helpful to do whatever you can- and if that includes posting a black square or making an inspirational video, that’s ok. Just make sure to find other ways to help other than simply spreading the word. Raising a fist on a public platform for likes is not going to help anyone.

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