Performative Activism: Harmful or Helpful?

Morgan Daniels

Have you or a friend posted a picture at a protest with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter? Quick newsflash…that doesn’t make you an ally. Going to a march to have a quick photo opp isn’t helping anything. 


Performative activism is essentially a way to seek validation for one’s own fragile mindset. Here is what it looks like: “Hey I don’t really care about the Black Lives Matter movement but it looks like all of my peers and followers on Instagram do so let me post this picture of me at a march for everyone’s validation”. Posting information about how to help and posting about what you have done to help are two different things. If you are actively speaking out and using social media to educate yourself and others then you can consider yourself an ally but if you are always posting about what you have done don’t consider yourself an ally. 


Performative activism is harmful to a movement. I am sure we all remember blackout Tuesday where everyone was to post a black screen in solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement. Now in no way shape or form am I saying that if you posted that black screen you aren’t truly an ally, if anything you may have been a victim of performative activism. Using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter as a caption to the black screen drowned out a lot of resources and important educational posts that could have benefited the cause. I see this in two different ways 1. people who have done nothing for the cause posting because it’s the easiest thing to do to get pats on the back and 2. Those of us (including myself) posting it because we are trying to do everything we can. If you were in the latter category you most likely went back and changed your hashtag to #blackouttuesday or deleted the post altogether. 


Please do not make this movement a trend because of your own fragility. Those of us who have been in this fight forever can see right through your act. Let’s not forget that the police force was created to protect white people and white property after slaves were freed, so when we say we need to defund the police and you take down your #blacklivesmatter post you were never truly supporting the movement. 


Now if you really want to help and you are in it for the long run let me say this to you. Please do the research yourself, neither Black nor brown people should have to educate you on these topics, it is not our duty. These things should have been taught to you but we can clearly see why they weren’t. If you want to show your Black friends and family that you want to be educated then take the time and do it and check with them to make sure you are understanding the right things. But please do not expect every single Black and person of color to explain to you the situation. 


If you acknowledge that you are demonstrating performative activism here are some things you can do to change and help. Donate to Black-owned organizations (if you can). If you are able to donate to organizations like Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, there are a ton of places that are in need of donations and for the love of God do not post it. 


Next, if you go to a protest do not stay for two minutes and take pictures of yourself, actually be there in the moment and listen. Also do not tell Black people how to feel or to protest, there is a long list of riots and protests that have worked and we have heard about them in our own history classes so do not give your opinion on how we are protesting. Finally, educate others! Once you are educated please educate your own friends and family it will help this movement in a lot of ways. 


If we want any chance at ending this disease idea called racism we need to spread awareness and everyone needs to take the time to educate those around them. We have seen what happens when we work together in the right ways and we know how it helps. If you are in this movement for real I want to thank you and you can rest easy knowing that you are using your voice for good. You can help be the change in this world. 


Here are some resources to ways you can donate as well as educate yourself and others.