I’ve seen this buzzword come up a few times in feeds and on social (just glue my hand to my phone at this point). I think it’s important to address, especially with my friends and family who hold positions of power and are capable of acting out institutional change.
What does “performative activism” mean? It means that you’ve noticed the demographic whose opinion influences your sales, your following, your social capital, etc. are becoming passionate about a cause. In response to that cause, you are marketing, speaking to, sharing things that have surface meaning (a black square is the perfect example of this), but are not committing internal resources (for companies this is money and manpower, for people this is time, money and education) to addressing the issue. Hence, you are “performing” activism rather than actively changing your mindset and policies going forward.
I think this is a human response. As white people, we are more used to our needs being addressed in the immediate. We want a quick solution. Saying that Black lives matter and you stand in solidarity, then simply moving on with your life requires approximately five minutes of your time. It feels like a bit of a release. But it is simply stating something that has been true all along. If you’re argument is that these actions raise awareness, my response is: Who at this point is not aware?
Responses like this are pivots that make the issue go away and dispel that sense of tension inside of us we get when we feel like we need “to do something already.” They’re also the same forgettable communications that have created our cycles of awareness around issues like police brutality. Instead of learning about an issue, we take a stance and go back to our lives. The conversation dies away and so do the “challenges” that rose from the news cycle. But systemic change requires continued effort and education. It requires us to rearrange our lives to make room for true activism. If your daily reading, routine, or thought processes haven’t changed, then you’re performing activism.
I have been guilty of this in the past. I have been outraged temporarily but long-term apathetic. I am prone to bursts of deep concern (obsessive personality here ♀️) rather than long-term changes. It’s easier, I know. But I feel deeply that we as a nation are waking up from a slumber of apathy. My hope is that by speaking out about this, you’ll hold me accountable, too ❤️