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The Kilt

The Student News Site of Hazen High School

The Kilt

The Student News Site of Hazen High School

The Kilt

Performative Activism

Nine and a half seconds. That’s how long former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, suffocating him. Six. That’s how many times Breonna Taylor was shot by Kentucky police officers who forced their way into her home on account of falsely suspected drug charges. One-point-eight miles. That’s how far Ahmaud Arbery was from his house before two white men fatally shot him for looking “suspicious.” 

In response to these murders, #BlackOutTuesday started trending on June 2, 2022, in which ‘allies’ of the Black Lives Matter movement posted black squares to their feeds. Soon enough, the hashtag received millions of views, likes, and comments. The black squares began as a representation of solidarity and allyship towards the Black community. It started as a call to action, to “disrupt the long-standing racism and inequality that exists,” words from music execs Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang stated, founders of the “trend.”

Trends, they come and they go. They’re in, and then out just as fast. #BlackOutTuesday became a trend. Within a few hours of the first original posts, over 14 million black squares had littered Instagram feeds across the globe. Celebs such as Megan Fox, Tom Brady, Courteney Cox, Kendall Jenner, and more added to the millions, giving the movement more voice.

Here is where the dilemma begins. How authentic are those posts, hashtags, “praying hand emojis,” and black hearts? Are they genuine representations of activism? Or are they shields against scrutiny and a form of performative activism? 

Activism: An effort to promote or impede change within one side of a social/political movement, normally controversial. From Susan B Anthony to Malcolm X, activists have fought for social change for centuries. Despite threats, danger, and possible death, these revolutionists and more struggled for a better tomorrow. The question is, why was it so easy for them? Why was incarceration the last thing Martin Luther King Jr. worried about when staging protests? Why did death not scare Malala Yousafzai when she fought for the rights of Pakistani women to receive a proper education? Genuinity. The outcomes of their fight, however grim they may become, never came close to the good that could have resulted from it. That’s what happens when your activism is real: You could care less about the consequences.

Performative activism: An effort that is done to boost/protect one’s social status, rather than bona fide allyship rooted in one’s values and beliefs. For instance, you could be scrolling through Instagram when you see someone’s story with a repost that says “Like this message if you support all women. I can see who scrolls!” with a frowny face.  Those posts and messages are performative acts harbored solely to receive likes and views. Even if you know you support women and are secure in that fact, you’d still feel the need to like the post. Why? These kinds of posts guilt trip their audience. By including “I can see who scrolls,” the viewer is overcome with a sense of remorse and can’t help but double-tap. It is honestly a disheartening portrayal of our culture, and how someone can easily ‘get canceled’ for scrolling past something as mundane as an IG post. Performative activism is a shallow and selfish excuse for something worthwhile.

The interesting aspect of performative allyship is that it does the complete opposite of what it claims to do. Real activism shines a light on important issues while providing action steps, such as links for donations, further research, or numbers to call. For instance, after the unfortunate death of Breonna Taylor, Zendaya posted three ways to support Taylor and demand justice against her murderers. She posted multiple numbers of district attorneys as well as a pre-scripted message to say to those attorneys. 

That is how you do activism. It’s more than posting a black square that you’ll eventually delete because it ruins your feed. It’s more than posting a hashtag that will die out in a week. It’s more than reposting a video of a protest. It’s genuine. It’s real. If you really care about the contemporary issues of our world, such as racism, sexism, climate change, or misinformation, I urge you to act. Go to that protest. Perform a sit-in. Do your own research. Do something that will make a genuine difference. Something that will provoke meaningful change. And you’ll know when that happens. 

Because the consequences of your unabashed allyship will be the least of your worries.

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Kya Baker, Managing Editor
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    Mr. DavoltMar 30, 2023 at 10:38 am

    Love this article!