Performative Activism: Why do People Keep Saying It?

“Performative activism” has become a new buzzword over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, but what does it actually mean? Performative activism is the act of engaging in activism for the gain of social status, rather than a genuine act of true activism. This word has seen its fair share of popularity over the summer, as the Black Lives Matter movement heightened and began to make large impacts in 2020. With this came a rise of performative activism, and the use of the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements to gain social media clout. This has many problematic implications and can lead to the discrediting of many serious topics. In this article, I will discuss some prime examples of performative activism and ways to combat it with genuine actions.

Black Squares on Instagram

#Blackouttuesday was an event planned on June 2, 2020 and was intended to uplift Black voices in light of the murder of George Floyd. This, however, did not turn out to be the outcome. Instead the blackout was taken too literally and Instagram feeds were flooded with black squares for Blackout Tuesday. This created a multitude of problems. The first being the suppression of actual information in light of protests, which was needed for many people who were attending these protests. Rather than posting to hashtags dedicated to the blackout, many people instead flooded actual Black Lives Matter hashtags, such as #BlackLivesMatter and #BLM. In turn, when people looked to these hashtags to find educational information about protests or simply information on the current state of affairs, they were met with a dark screen. Another problem that came out of the Instagram Black Square situation was the idea that it would be enough. Enough support, enough activism, and enough to show that you care. This was not nearly enough. Many people stopped posting about Black Lives Matter after posting their black square to Instagram, and this led to a sharp decline in the Black Lives Matter movement’s traction. It was seen as a token of approval by many and the peak of activism from those same people, but when it came to the actual uplifting of Black voices and stories, they stayed silent.

TikTok Sounds as a Trend

Breonna Taylor was a prime example of the true corruption of America’s police and judicial system, after seeing the lack of charges against her killers. Yet it took another social media app, TikTok, to desensitize the true inhuman nature of her death and turn it into yet another ploy for performative activists. A song by Tobe Nwigwe titled “I NEED YOU TO” called for action and justice for Breonna Taylor, as well as justice for Elijah McClain. This song quickly became viral and for the right reasons, but met its foe when it made its way onto TikTok. It was quickly turned into an audio for creators to use in their videos, which would be a good thing except for the fact that it repeated the mistakes of the black square. Many TikTok creators treated the sound like a trend, beginning with a different song and then transitioning to “I NEED YOU TO.” These videos typically had people lip-syncing along, but failed to provide information about Breonna Taylor’s case or any other information that could be relevant. As the sound became more and more popular, it seemed as if Breonna Taylor’s name had become a trend and lost its meaning——Breonna Taylor was a real person with real friends and family, who died at the hands of police. Her name quickly turned into a buzzword thrown around by these performative activists, and placed into the hands of disrespectful memes and videos. Although there may have been good intentions, the outcome was far from good.

So now that we have covered some examples of performative activism, what is there to do? The first step is to think before you post. Now, think has more to it than it sounds. This means researching before you post information, and making sure it is accurate and helpful. Posting images or infographics without thought behind it may lead to the spread of misinformation. I would say the second step is to make sure you know your intentions. Do not post if you truly do not care. Information is plentiful and sharing it is a big key, but posting for the sake of wanting to appear as if you care is the peak of performative activism. When you post, make sure it is something you believe in, truly. I may also remind you that there are other methods of helping movements. This may includes donations, protesting, sharing your own artwork, speaking about your own experiences, or uplifting others’ experiences. There is more to movements than what you see on social media. So go outside and get involved!

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