4 December 2020
By Jess Arvela
Head of Sales & Marketing | Co-Founder
Performative Activism “is a negative term used to describe activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to the cause”. In the context of digital activism, it’s an exhibition of your own virtuous moral compass rather than a genuine effort to provide your platform to others.
There is an anonymity that exists in activism, now that it has a strong base online. Movements organised by Susan B Anthony and Martin Luther King required people to collect en masse, to be educated on an issue, and boycott or protest as a collective. Today, particularly in a COVID-19 digital world, people have baseless opinions, make claims publicly about events and concepts they have no education about, and have no point of reference.
The Pew Research Center found that on Twitter (not including Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, etc.), “the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter had been used nearly 30 million times – an average of 17,002 times per day”. We know about Deepfake, bots, and Cambridge Analytica. We can use this frame to understand the harm performative activism creates for meaningful change. The fluidity of these issues perceived as trends, floods the conversation, and obscures the voices the movement (specifically BLM) was created to amplify.
An example is the black squares posted, seemingly for the BLM movement. Celebrities, influencers, corporations, your white-liberal-voting-neighbour posted them. Even Emma Watson posted it, three times in fact as not to ruin the aesthetic of her feed. This not only literally blacked out the black voices using the hashtag to communicate and share their experience, it posed a danger due to the abhorrent violence the protestors were experiencing. The hashtag and platform were used to provide advice, safety, and resources. The request was made to stop using the hashtag, and stop using the post for clout.
While there are arguments that even performative activism raises awareness, the intention to serve one’s own image, and generate social credit with symbolic gestures undermines the legitimate struggle for validation, recognition, and attention from black voices. Are we creating awareness or are we taking action to recognise and dismantle the structurally violent reality we exist in?
- PR/Brand/Public profile management
- White fragility
- You’re resentful
- Everyone is doing it, so you have to
- Your statement appeared after you were called out
- Virtual signalling (showing receipts)
- Centering yourself
- You’re benefiting
- You’re taking risks/holding yourself and others accountable
- ‘Brand’ is of no concern
- Educating yourself
- Examining your own privilege and using it help others
- Committed to anti-racist work
- Not virtual signalling and taking real action
- It’s not about you
- Sitting with discomfort
- Empathy/real grief and outrage
Source: Seerut K. Chawla
Additional Resources: The Black Lives Matter resource list