A Quick Guide to Performative Activism

First of all, I want to thank everyone who has shared the 30 Day Petition Checklist. For more info on that, please check out the ’30 Day Petition Checklist’ tab on the website menu.

We should use the outbreak of attention around Black Lives Matter to not only amplify justice for Black lives, but we should use the ‘buzz’ as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. To analyse the way we reacted when people on social media called us out for not speaking up and to interrogate our understandings of ethnic minorities by looking back on what we were taught in schools and at home.

Before we define this term. Please ask yourself these four questions:

Did I post a Black square for #blackouttuesday but haven’t posted/reposted anything BLM related since then?

Did I think about going to a protest and the thought of taking a picture to post on social media crossed my mind?

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. Am I unable to name any other Black person who was racially targeted and killed?

Has my urgency to learn about Black lives and Black history dramatically gone down since it stopped being a trend on social media?

If even one of your answers to these questions is a ‘yes’, then the activism you have been participating in is performative. This type of activism is just as harmful to the Black community as silence.

So what is “Performative Activism” exactly?

When you google the term, its headlining definition is that it is ‘a pejorative term referring to activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause’.

In this case, it’s a term used to challenge the sincerity behind what you post or repost on your social media platforms. The bottom line is if you felt more inclined to post about Black Lives Matter because you saw other people had posted about it – that is Performative Activism. It is more harmful than silence because you are giving off the impression that you are making an effort to understand and amplify Black lives. For some of us, this is the support we have been longing to hear white people spearhead in conversations without us having to stress to them why our lives matter. So if you are a white person and have shown your support for a couple of weeks and have stopped, please consider the implications that might have on your Black friends.

How can I correct my mistakes towards this?

  • Ask yourself the above questions.
  • Look back on your past engagements (both public and private) regarding BLM or any other humanitarian concerns and ask yourself, have I kept up the effort to stay informed about these issues?
  • Read the books/Watch the films/Listen to the podcasts that you told yourself you were going to try back when they were being publicised everywhere in June.
  • The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain are currently the most publicised in the media at the moment. Learning three stories is not enough. Learn more names. Sign more petitions (again, please refer to the 30 Day Petition Checklist in the menu of this website).
  • Make your learning manageable – no one said you had to condense learning about these concerns in just a matter of weeks. BLM is not a trend. It will still be here when lockdown is eased further. It will still need your support even when social media stops caring completely. This applies to every humanitarian crisis that social media has started paying attention to.

Why does doing this matter?

We are responsible for our ignorance. By assuming we are not contributing to the problem, we are giving ourselves and others a false sense of security. From now on, if you come across something informative on social media, please change your mindset. Assume it applies to you.

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