Media Analysis / all

“During a time when online activism is prevalent, we must talk about the dangers of performative allyship,” says VOX ATL’s Lauren Ashe.

The Dangers of Performative Activism

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In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, worldwide protests have erupted in a call for justice. Due to the looming threat of COVID-19, some people are not able to take to the streets and protest, causing many to take part in online activism.

Many people around the world have taken to social media to express their anger and try to help fight against injustice and bring about change. While many people have gone about online activism in the right way, taking the right steps and advocating for long-term change, many others have gone about it in the wrong way, believing that a simple repost constitutes activism.

What is “Performative Activism?”

“Performative Activism” is defined as activism that is done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause. A person who is taking part in performative activism would rather let it be known that they are not racist rather than actually seeking to change the racist structures within our country.

In a world where “being woke” has become both a trend and a competition, many people feel inclined to show off their so-called wokeness in order to present a better version of themselves to the public, ultimately hoping to falsely paint themselves in a more positive light. It is more important to actually fight racist structures in real life rather than putting on a facade for social media.

For example, on Tuesday June 2, millions of people began to post solid black images on Instagram with the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday. From large brands to the smallest personal accounts, 29 million people posted the squares in solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement with captions such as “Always learning, loving and listening” and “Though I will never understand, I still stand.”

Instead of showing support and solidarity with the cause, the gesture brought along negative effects, as the black squares flooded the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, ultimately hiding important information regarding donations and petitions in the height of a very important movement.

Although the purpose of the day wasn’t ill-intended, it helped many people to believe that posting a black square was enough in this fight against racism and shifted the conversation away from what really matters. It served as a cop-out to many people who were silent about the death of George Floyd prior to #BlackoutTuesday, showing their lack of regard for the issue and ultimately exposing the insincerity of their gesture

If the 29 million people who posted a black screen would’ve all signed the petition for justice for George Floyd, then the petition would have more than 19 million signatures. Because of this, it is hard to believe that people were sincere when posting the black square, as real change could be made through signing petitions like the one for Floyd.

In addition to #BlackOutTuesday, other forms of performative activism have been shown across social media platforms, with influencers, major corporations and celebrities participating. While many celebrities have been protesting, donating and bringing light to important topics, efficiently helping the movement, many have been going about the situation the wrong way.

Earlier this month, social media influencer Fionna Moritatry-McLaughlin was accused of pretending to board up a window in order to make it seem like she was helping to repair a Santa Monica shop that was damaged. In the video that was posted to Twitter, you can see McLaughlin borrowing a drill from a construction worker to board up the window. After posing for a photo with the drill in front of the store, she thanked the construction worker and then drove away in her Mercedes-Benz. 

[EDIT 6/25: Moritatry-McLaughlin has since responded to these claims.]

In addition to this, celebrities such as Kendall and Kylie Jenner, both of whom have largely profited off of Black culture, participated in a Black Lives Matter Instagram story chain in hopes of “spreading awareness.”

Rather than posting a useless chain to their Instagram stories, which do nothing to help the fight for justice and only help to make the Jenners feel like they are helping, Kylie and Kendall could have posted information to their followers regarding donations, petitions and how they can help during this time in other ways. Their platforms are too big for them not to do so. 

Kylie and Kendall were not the only ones who were participating in this trend, however, as many of the people I follow began to post it as well. I was tagged in quite a few of the chains, with people urging me to not “break the chain.” Instead of really caring about the issue and doing things to help, people seem to care more about their image and proving to their friends that they are not racist. 

What can you do to really help? 

From #BlackOutTuesday, to the Instagram chain and many major brands such as DollsKill and Brandy Mellville getting exposed for racism despite claiming to support the Black Lives Matter movement, it has been shown that performative activism is a problem during these challenging times. Despite this, there are many ways we can actually help to create real, structural change. 

Donate to Black organizations and Mutual Aid Funds

One way you can help the Black Lives Matter movement is by donating money to causes that directly help those on the front lines or those who are involved in the movement. It is important to put your money where your mouth is in order to show your true support. Below are some organizations that you can give your money to.

Victim Memorial Funds: 

Justice for Breonna Taylor

George Floyd Memorial Fund 

I Run With Maud

Tony Mcdade Memorial Fund 

David McAtee Memorial Fund 

Gianna Floyd Fund

Bail Funds: 

The Bail Project

Atlanta Solidarity Fund

Black Trans Protestors Emergency Fund

National Bail Out

(F)empower Community Bond Fund

Incarceration Reform:

The Equal Justice Initiative

No New Jails NYC

Dream Defenders

Prison Book Program

Political Reform:

Fair Fight

Black Voters Matter Fund

Woke Vote

The Collective

Below is a continued list of places that you can donate to:

Sign Petitions concerning racial injustice 

Signing petitions to promote justice can be instrumental in creating change, as it shows the public’s support of an issue. Below are petitions in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

This card includes all petitions pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement:

This card includes petitions that have not met their signature goals:

Contact Elected Officials 

It is very important to contact your elected officials to get them to act on the situation at hand. You can call their offices and email them to pressure them into responding and taking action. By doing so, you can encourage the passing of new laws or the justice for victims of police brutality. 

Educate Yourself 

One of the most important things that you can do to support this movement is to educate yourself on issues in the black community and about efficiently being anti-racist. Below are some movies and books you can read to educate yourself on topics concerning racism and black lives. 

“How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi

“White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarnation in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum 

“The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein


Just Mercy” (free on many platforms, including Amazon Prime Movies for the month of June)

“When They See Us” (Netflix) 

“13th” (Netflix)

“I Am Not Your Negro” (Hulu)

“Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story” (Amazon Prime Movies) 

“16 Shots” (Hulu)

“Whose Streets?” (Hulu, Amazon Prime Movies) 

Educate those around you

It is so important to have hard conversations with your friends and family about racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement. By educating those around you and correcting their biases or racism, you are creating a better space for your Black peers. Change starts from within, and it is important to impact those around you, as it will ultimately change the world we live in.

Attend protests and volunteer 

If you are able to, you can attend protests or volunteer to provide goods to protesters. By getting out in the streets and demanding justice, it shows your commitment to the movement and helps to show officials that people really care. Make sure to wear masks and socially distance at these gatherings!

Think before posting 

Before you post something concerning the Black Lives Matter movement, think about why you are doing so. Are you doing so to make yourself feel good? Does this post contain important information that can help people, like donations or petitions? Does this post help to inform people about racism and help to continue the conversation? It is important that we think before we post and share information that is helpful to create real change and educate others.

By partaking in effective activism, we can help to change the world as we know it.



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