After the events of last summer surrounding police brutality, performative activism seemingly increased tenfold. On both the digital sphere and in the real world, black squares and Black Lives Matter signs have been posted with no real actions being taken.
The first time I noticed performative activism was with the black square takeover on Instagram. For one Tuesday, my feed was filled with black squares. People who hadn’t said anything about the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were posting black squares with captions like “#BLM”, “#blacklivesmatter” and some with just emojis. Is this really considered activism?
Performative activism had been going on long before then, but that was the event that made me realize what it was and how odd it is. The way we use Instagram has turned it into a platform where if you don’t say anything, you seem as if you don’t support it or don’t care about it. This forces users to post infographics and the same post every other user is posting while actually doing nothing.
If we create a society where reposting pictures on our stories, an act that takes less than 10 seconds, is considered activism — how will we ever get anything done? It is dangerous to trick ourselves into thinking that what we repost on social media will have a profound impact. Sure, it shows your followers what side of the issue you are on, but nothing else comes from that. If we convince ourselves that posting something about abolishing the police will actually abolish the police, nothing will ever get done.
I want to be clear that I repost infographics and other posts on my story as well, but I don’t consider it to be activism. Attending marches, donating money and participating in mutual aid projects is how I truly show my support; the social media posts are for educational purposes. Not everyone who reposts is a performative activist, but solely reposting is performative activism.
We see performative activism off-screen as well. Businesses put up signs for Black Lives Matter, immigration and equality to get business, without actually doing anything. By putting up a sign, you show that you support that community, but that’s where it ends. A sign that thousands of other people have shows support but changes nothing.
In my own hometown, I watched businesses put up BLM signs only to take them down once the protests were over a couple weeks later. My own boss said it was because business cannot get political, but why put them up in the first place then? Showing support to gain business turns activism into a trend. If you aren’t willing to do the work, donating, protesting, boycotting, etc., don’t make it seem like you are.
The cons outweigh the pros when it comes to performative activism. While I post infographics on my story with the intent of educating others, it won’t do anything unless my followers click on the post, read it and do their own research. Those most likely to do that are already in the same political sphere as I am, so there is no progress being made.
We are tricking ourselves into believing we are actively making change with performative activism. By not showing up unless it’s trending, we are helping no one and continuing to support the systems we otherwise say we want to change.
When activists say that silence is support, they mean that in not showing up for protests and actively helping. One post to your story to show that you don’t support white supremacy does nothing in dismantling that system.
If we want to make a change, we have to go beyond performative activism. We must take action for what we claim to support online. Showing up is more than a repost.