Whether it comes to abortion rights or Black Lives Matter, performative activism is everywhere, and that should worry you.
Performative activism; noun. When you support a cause to garner attention from others instead of actually caring about the issue.
This mock-support is a huge issue. Why? Because it draws attention away from the actual issue. Sometimes, people upload superficial posts that don’t necessarily strive to help the larger issue. In some cases, performative activists seek to demonstrate how “woke” or “liberal” they are, and posting on their Instagram stories achieves this goal with minimal effort. However, not all cases are this drastic, and in the majority of cases (we hope) this performative activism is unintentional, and people just don’t know what other way to contribute to a cause.
Now, you may be wondering, isn’t performative activism better than nothing? In most cases, no, actually. Posting figures and quotes on social media can crowd out substantive information.
Take Blackout Tuesday for instance. In June of 2020, activists on Instagram started posting plain black squares as a way to show “solidarity” to Black people who were harmed by the justice system instead of raising awareness on police brutality and the injustices Black Americans face. However, the problem was that people tagged the posts with #blacklivesmatter, thus crowding the hashtag with unhelpful black squares that drowned out any real information concerning news, protests, and donation links.
Performative activism can result in these activists feeling absolved of their guilt about not actually contributing to the causes they care about. In fact, Dan Penalosa, a reporter at The Epitaph, states that “to most people, once they no longer feel like they have to care, they can tune out, regardless of whether there is justice or not.” So, performative activism can lead to less overall activism taking place.
What can you do instead? Research, take action, and don’t take advantage of specific issues because it benefits you.
Let’s start with research. We want to make this very clear: don’t post things you don’t know anything about. If you are pro-choice, don’t blindly post things on your story because it looks good; research the topic. If you’re talking about Roe v. Wade, research the landmark Supreme Court case, because you might not know much about it (even if you do, learning more never hurts). Specifically, Anna Hull, Rowland Hall junior, says thats “when I followed the decision for Roe v. Wade, I looked back at my SCOTUS class I took earlier this year. That way I was not only feeling emotionally impacted by the decision but also understood the rarity of Supreme court decisions being leaked and the history of the controversy around the right to privacy.” Unlike Anna, you shouldn’t argue about something you don't know anything about, and when you start doing so, you risk running into performative activist territory.
After researching a topic, take action. This doesn't necessarily mean posting links to donations, although that's better than nothing. Donate to organizations that support your cause, and not just so you can post on your story, “I donated to so-and-so.”
Most of the time when you mass-share your efforts, it tends to become performative. So instead, attend rallies, and contact people that can help your cause. Put it into perspective. Is sharing a twenty-four-hour square picture with some words to your high-school-aged friends who probably share your same opinion really effective? Furthermore, Julia Summerfield, Rowland Hall junior explained that “another issue I saw during this period [May and June 2020] was that people were posting the exact same quote or infographic. It was to the point where I would go through Instagram and wonder, who is this helping?”
Finally, don’t support something because it's convenient. Instead of posting about Black history month exclusively during Black history month, show your support year-round, not just when it benefits your public persona. Because in the end, it’s not about you, it’s about the cause.
Our society revolves around social media, and that’s fine, but it becomes a problem when we start supporting things to boost our ego and our social standing. Remember, it’s not about you.
As we were looking through people’s Instagrams, we found no mentions of the Supreme Court draft in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. This is surprising considering a week ago, people couldn’t stop posting about it. What happened? The issue did not become less prevalent. In fact, more and more states started introducing trigger laws to ban abortions and even forms of birth control. So the issue did not change, the people did. They got tired of supporting a cause they had so valiantly supported before.
These national issues aren't trends that you can get tired of. If we honestly cared about an issue, we wouldn't give up until it's resolved.
We need to do better. We can’t ignore issues once they disappear from our Instagram feeds.
Let’s use our voices and the powerful tool of social media to bring awareness to issues in order to address them; not to boost our ego.