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Putting On a Show For the World to See

Updated: May 29, 2023

Dear Asian Youth,

Activism is not a trend—and it’s terrifying that I have to bring that up. Genuine activism can only come from one’s passion for it. There is no “right” way to be involved; while some people post on social or attend protests to express their support, others may start educating themselves or their families. Regardless, you must always ask yourself: “Do I believe in what I am saying? Or is it to make me look better because everyone else is doing it?”

The Black Lives Matter movement has taken hold of the world with millions fighting to bring about change and fix the injustices of America’s corrupted system. Yet, despite the importance of getting justice, many individuals, as well as large corporations, are taking advantage of what has become appealing.

Performative activism is quite literally what its name describes it to be. Rather than advocating for what is right because of one’s passion for the topic itself, performative activism refers to utilizing activism as a way to gain recognition or approval from their peers. Participants don a caring facade: performing for their followers to see, acting like thoughtful saints. But, once the cameras are off and the spotlight is no longer on them, they couldn’t give a shit about what this is all about. Performative activism has existed for as long as true activism has; just think about the difference between a vague tweet that basically says “racism is bad,” and doing absolutely nothing else, versus people marching on the streets and waving signs at protests. While the murder of George Floyd has united many with the common purpose of bringing about change, it has brought to light the problematic normalization of this brand of activism.

Let’s start off with one of the most prominent examples of this: #blackouttuesday. The hashtag was flooded with countless pictures of black screens, and I admit that I was one of the participants as well. Though the purpose was to demonstrate our unity and to stand in solidarity with the Black community, this movement faced backlash, and for good reason. Performative activism can be compared to color-blindness. It is only the illusion of alliance. It allows white guilt to become suppressed instead of addressed, since people feel as if they have “done their part” when they have done, quite frankly, nothing. Even with racial injustices appearing left and right in this country, white privilege still allows the racial majority to live at peace. #Blackouttuesday only continued to nurture this toxic status quo. Instead of providing ways for non-black to come to terms with their racial advantage and use it to assist in the fight for equality, performative activism allows them to continue to deny reality.

Celebrities and popular companies are also partaking in performative activism. Social media paved a path to new ways to warp true activism into performative activism. Remember when people would post the “Black Lives Matter” chain on their Instagram stories to “spread the word” by tagging their friends? Well, celebrities Kendall and Kylie Jenner did just that, tagging their other famous friends with the idea that their stories would make an impact. Additionally, let’s not forget the controversy Madison Beer was caught in when pictures of her posing at a Hollywood protest like a photoshoot were leaked. The pictures show Beer standing on top of a car and posing with her signs, and though she denies the allegations of her doing it for her social media, a lot of people appear to be unphased by it. Along with these public figures, large companies are also at fault regarding performative activism. Amazon, an online shopping powerhouse, is under fire for their ulterior motives concerning bullshit messages about how they support BLM. Although they tweeted a public statement regarding their support for the movement, they were attacked immediately with claims of workers’ abuse and racist products sold. The social aspect of sustainability involves corporations treating workers humanely, so for Amazon to be talking about their support for a social justice movement would be completely hypocritical. As if that wasn’t enough, Spotify, a popular music platform with a history of underpaying artists, merely added 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to some playlists during blackout Tuesday. Instead of showcasing Black artists and promoting songs that raise awareness, Spotify has chosen silence. Were these empty acts born from kindness? Or were they just another tactic to get users to believe that celebrities and corporations actually care? They are another example of how bigger organizations manipulate their users’ interests. In the case of these companies, the answer is loud and clear: they keep up their reputation for money, but do not have a care in the world for actually obtaining justice.

So, what can you do to help? Trust me, I know how it feels to be powerless when standing up to seemingly stronger figures, whether it’s corporations or even your own parents. But do not let performative activism deceive you or give you an easy way out. Different people support the movement in different ways. Some may find that it comes easy to speak up on their platforms, while others are just beginning to educate themselves. Demonstrating solidarity doesn’t always mean you should feel the need to validate yourself through social media. Continue to sign petitions, donate whatever you can, protest, and speak your mind. Because nothing is more important than participation, especially right now.


-Julianne Tenorio


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