"Performative Activism in 2020" by Noelle S. Dahl
Performative activism has skyrocketed subsequent to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Instagram influencers, celebrities, multimillion-dollar corporations, and everyday people have taken to social media to try to spread the word about the purpose of BLM and the racial injustices that occur every day in the African American community. But does posting and reposting articles that claim to support BLM really help to fight injustice or is it simply to display their own facade of “wokeness” on social media platforms? Here are a few ways to spot the dangers of performative activism and how we can refrain from contributing to it.
What is performative activism? Performative activism is defined as “a form of activism used to increase one's social capital or personal gain rather than genuine support towards a movement, issues, or causes.” You’re probably seeing it during your daily intake of Instagram stories and not realizing it, but how can you distinguish it? Spotting perforative activism is often simple and is usually met with commending the person who posts the image. When you scroll on Instagram and inevitably absorb your daily intake of BLM posts, ask yourself the following questions: Does this post begin with “I am outraged” or “I hear you”? Is the post mysteriously missing any statements that acknowledge their personal responsibility in racial injustice issues? Is their post teeming with evocative words like disbelief, anger, or disgrace? Another indication of performative activism maybe if the post itself blends in with the individual’s feed or color scheme on Instagram. Does their aesthetic pink BLM post harmonize with their rose-colored cowgirl hat picture? If so, you’re probably face to face with what performative activism looks like on a phone screen.
This type of activism, which is brazenly accepted as allyship, is harmful to those who are willing to put their lives on the line to initiate change. Why? Because simply reposting articles is easy. You’re not sacrificing any of the privileges that you live with by posting on Instagram. Ceasing to shop at clothing brands that have been publicly accused of racism is, however, a step. Widespread clothing brands like Brandy Melville, Dolls Kill, and Anthropologie have several allegations of racism from both customers and employees that are people of color. Even with this, some of the most “woke” influencers and young celebrities continue to strut out of their beloved stores with their arms weighed down by bags of their clothes. Posting in solidarity while giving your money to companies that have rampant allegations against them seems not only counterproductive but also feeding into a greater problem which is the commodification of activism.
Many brands and influencers have gone so far as to unknowingly commodify those who have been killed at the hands of racial injustice. How? By using their faces in marketing campaigns in order to make more money. The commodification of activism is nothing new though. We’ve seen the poster child of the commodification of activism in 2018 when Nike released Colin Kaepernick to be their new face of their “Dream Crazy” marketing campaign. This was an abject attempt from Nike to increase their profits by using Black activists as the face of their brand to expand to more consumers. This culpable marketing scheme is happening even now. When multimillion-dollar companies release public statements of solidarity on social media, it can be an attempt to expand their commercial gain.
So instead of posting your solidarity on social media put your money where your mouth is. Protest in person. Donate. Sign petitions. Stop buying from companies who are using racial injustice to gain profit. Enhance your political dialogue with those who might not agree with you. Instagram allyship means nothing if that’s where your activism stops. These small acts of change will one day grow into the change that all Americans deserve.