top of page

How to Combat Performative Activism

Updated: 4 days ago

Dear Asian Youth,

The good thing about social media is how quickly everything spreads: information is spread across the world in the blink of an eye, resources find their way to people, and educational material is at your fingertips.

The bad thing about social media is how quickly everything spreads: are in and out of circulation continuously to the point where it can be exhausting to open your feed. This degree of connectivity is a powerful tool, but it is also something that facilitates misinformation and disposable trends. Everything moves quickly in the digital world, and by that, I’m referring to how much internet culture shifts and adapts.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has gained a lot of public attention after the murder of George Floyd, and sadly, such acts of police brutality are not new. The tragedy was a catalyst to a greater public discussion about systemic racism and an unfortunate reminder that tragedy seems to expedite a desire for reform. Through social media, we are able to find resources that can implement change, such as petitions and donation links, and educational content concerning how to go about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. There is no doubt that social media has an endless amount of resources for people to use in order to be good and socially-conscious activists.

But as BLM permeates the digital consciousness of U.S. citizens, there comes a connotation with the vehicle by which the movement is primarily spread. That vehicle, of course, is social media, and social media is a conglomerate of normal citizens. If it is any kind of vehicle, one can look at it like a bandwagon: it’s a medium that facilitates peer pressure and trendiness. In the case of the BLM movement, many folks are diverging from the main road of actually uplifting Black voices and dismantling racist infrastructures.

Performative activism is exactly what it sounds like: A disingenuous facade that reduces activism to some kind of aesthetic. I recall the circulation of the #blackouttuesday tag on Instagram. Essentially, a social media response to exhibit solidarity towards the Black community in which participants would simply post a black photo captioned with the tag itself.

The issue with this is simple: It is not a call to reform, it is not a way of spreading resources, and it isn’t a display of taking action.

It is a trend.

This is one instance of many, and it is not something exclusively restricted to the BLM movement. Performative allyship can be seen in many other facets of society and social media: Resharing tag chains, posts like “Repost if you are against sexual assault!” or even solely posting videos of traumatic content are all instances of disingenuous activism. Corporations prey off of the trendiness of social justice, like the cases of Reformation and the NFL. Both released statements that expressed their support of BLM only after the recent rise of the movement. Reformation received backlash as a former employee, Leslieann Elle Santiago, spoke out about her mistreatment as a POC working under them. The NFL was under fire after many pointed out that they had still not signed on Colin Kapernick, who was terminated after his peaceful protest in 2016, despite their claims that they “condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people.” Beyond these instances, performative activism from companies take shape in ways that are ultimately unproductive. And that fact isn’t restricted to corporations- the individual, as displayed by the