Column: Let’s talk about it

Let’s talk about the consequences of performative activism


It is no longer enough to simply not be racist in this day in age. An individual must be actively anti-racist and no longer “agree to disagree” with harmful ideologies. This is something that a lot of people struggle to do successfully.

Performative activism is becoming more common, especially with the growing presence of social media. Performative activism is when an individual displays activism and progressive thinking to only raise their social capital. These people are not usually dedicated to the cause, as their devotion is very surface-level.

This could be witnessed on a massive scale during the mass amount of protests and spreading of information based around the murder of George Floyd. Although the spreading of information on social media can prove to be positive, oftentimes it is counterproductive.

For example, the media wanted to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement by introducing an effort called “#BlackoutTuesday.” This was a certain Tuesday where Instagram users would post black squares to show their allyship or support of the Black Lives Matter movement. On the surface, this could seem great because it meant that mass amounts of people were participating in the movement or drawing attention to the issue of racial injustice.

However, posting a black square on Instagram is not enough to solve any problem, and it is counteractive to actually making real progress. This gave people an excuse to not do more for the cause, as they felt that it was sufficient enough to post a black square rather than take real action.

People faced the dilemma of needing to post the square even if they were doing actual work with educating or working with charitable organizations because if they did not share through their social media that they were in favor of social justice causes, they would appear as if they did not care at all. This leads to posting cute infographics to their Instagram surrounding actual issues for appearance, rather than actually caring.

There is a very damaging reaction cycle in regards to the media’s attention span for social justice issues specifically. This can be noticed during the rise of Asian hate crimes during March of 2021. The hashtag, #StopAsianHate, became incredibly popular according to GoogleTrends.

When the issue was presented to the public, searches and involvement with this hashtag skyrocketed. However, just one week later, searches decreased and reached an all-time low. This shows how low of an attention span that the media and its users have, which is very harmful. It appears that people only care about racial inequity or other prevalent issues while it’s trending, then it becomes old news in a week.
There is a chain reaction from the public that allows this mindset to continue. First, a tragedy occurs, like the death of George Floyd or the increase of Asian hate crimes. Then the public has a general feeling of shock. This is usually when the mass amounts of posts and media attention occurs for the issue. After the feeling of shock wears away, the movement is no longer a “trend,” so the attention to the issue subsides.

The shock factor of this cycle needs to be eliminated from people’s minds in order to make any real progress. Once a tragedy or traumatizing event occurs, do not allow shock to consume the media. Instead, realize that the consequences of inequity are not surprising and it calls for action. The hashtags and posts do not have to stop, but it cannot be the primary means of activism. A black Instagram square will not prevent cops from racially profiling innocent people and a hashtag will not stop the attacks against Asian-Americans.

Being performatively in favor of eliminating racism does not make you anti-racist, it just means you want a better image.

Spreading awareness through social media is not inherently bad or counterproductive; however, too many people think that posting an aesthetically pleasing infographic about an issue is enough. It is time to realize the damage that performative activism is causing and focus on being an ally to the cause outside of an online presence.