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Blackett: Performative Activism Will Not Solve Racism

Performative activism: activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than devotion to a cause.

Let’s take Instagram’s “Blackout Tuesday” for an example. Millions of users posted black backgrounds with “supportive” hashtags in a tearful display of allyship with the Black community following last summer’s incidents of police brutality.

“Blackout Tuesday” should have given me hope--hope that people are willing to and ready to address racism on a national stage. But in the weeks and months following, I still found myself victim to racism and microaggressions from the same people who posted a black square on their Instagram feed.

Businesses, politicians, and everyday people continue to practice performance activism under the guise of being progressive and anti-racist. Apparently, posting colourful infographics to your Instagram story is all you need to do to demonstrate how “anti-racist” you are.

My generation has conflated social media posts with real world actions. On social media, you can choose how people see you--and by posting these anti-racist infrographics, people will see you as “anti-racist”. But the reality is that you are not taking any real action towards uplifting the Black community, and only attempting to increase your own social capital.

You see, posting that black square showed all of your social media followers that you are “anti-racist” and stand side by side with our community. But your actions have shown that you are seemingly perpetuating the same racist system that your Instagram story fights against.

The same goes for these large corporations who rebrand their social media for whoever’s month it happens to be--Black History Month, Pride Month, etc.-- to show their followers just how “inclusive” they are. In reality, they are grandstanding on the collective struggles of marginalized communities.

I have been victim to racism and microaggressions from the same people I see posting aesthetic infographics everyday, and this is where I take great personal offense. If you do not practice what you preach, then you are part of the problem. Racism does not stop because you posted an infographic on social media. It only stops when we take real world action and call it out at every opportunity.

Actions speak louder than social media posts.

The problem with performative activism is that it does nothing to address or combat real racism. Your story posts are not going to stop anyone from using racial slurs--just like how changing your company logo to the Pride flag is not going to stop a hate crime. Performative activism plagues our movement, and it plagues any substantial progress or gain in our fight against racism. It does nothing to solve actual racism--all it does is make a user look good.

Racism stems from intolerance or lack of understanding of another individual’s skin colour. It bleeds into discrimination based on religion, gender, food, or dress. It is not acceptable to hold that view and pretend otherwise or racism will continue to evolve and thrive in our society.

It is up to all of us to combat racism through our own actions, not through social media posts. When your friend takes a joke too far, you call it out. When a person yells out a slur, you call them out. If your Black coworker is being treated unfairly because of their race, you call out the company. It takes affirmative action, having uncomfortable conversations, investing in the Black community, donating to the appropriate organizations, and doing your part to call out racism wherever you see it.

If we continue to be bystanders and let these incidents pass by, while we all post about how anti-racist we are, our society will achieve nothing. It is only through our everyday actions in social settings that we can make real progress.

Performative activism gives us the impression that our society is anti-racist, when we are nowhere close.

We are not an anti-racist society, and we cannot pretend that we are. Performative activism will only continue to uphold systemic racism, if we let it.

Your social media posts do not make you anti-racist, and if you cannot understand that, then you are part of the problem when it comes to modern day racism.

If we continue to let ourselves fall victim to empty words and actions from performative activism then our Black community will never be uplifted from the constant racism we face on a daily basis.

We must all do better.

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