The school newspaper of University City High School

Don’t pretend you support the cause

November 5, 2021

Most people know how easy it is to to sit behind a screen and deceivingly post or re-post images that are intended to be informative. For instance,  think about the black squares and the BLM hashtags after George Floyd happened, how those were spammed and became a trend of their own. The original resources attached to the BLM hashtag were obliterated because of the misuse of the black squares. So, instead of advocating for a cause, people sometimes use the cause as a way to garner attention on social media.

This trend of performative activism is not only harmful to the cause and the spread of awareness–it hurts the communities in crisis because people can be so ingenuine on social media. Essentially, the importance of the issue is taken away when it is posted in a cute or comical way for people to gain attention or validation.

“It’s not helping, it’s like we’re getting everything but what we asked for,” Khloe Fox, senior, said. “Like when we asked for laws to stop police being able to break into somebody’s house without a warrant, we got  “Black Lives Matter” painted down the street. It’s not beneficial, I mean it’s cool and it’s not that we don’t appreciate it, it’s just not what we’re asking for.”

Although posting, sharing and following can be beneficial, it’s not the solution to the problem, especially when the posting is insensitive. Remember when celebrities posted a video singing, “Imagine” by John Lennon in response to quarantine to express their sympathy and hope for unity in the world as they sit on their couches in million dollar mansions? Creating change does not happen through a post when out of pity or a desire for validation; it happens through actions.

“It’s not that effective in the sense that most people assume it is,” said Flowers. “In a way they are informing some people but it’s kind of like adding on top of what’s already there, similar to some superficial knowledge. At the same time it’s not really helping because it’s a voluntary attention thing. They feel the need to do something.”

Posing for Instagram beside a sign or while participating in a protest is not actually supporting or contributing to the advancement of the movement. There may be an underlying pressure to fit in on social media, and gather reassurance, however, the people that partake in performative activism should ask themselves if they are genuine, if they care and if they are willing to contribute to the cause and movement.

“In order to bypass, in order to get in, to not be questioned and to make sure they fit into society, they just do it,” Fox said. “ ‘Well I did X, Y, Z, I don’t understand why you guys are coming for me, like I support you guys?’ It’s just a cover up just so people don’t turn on them.”

With social media’s dominant role in the rise of performative activism, it has also brought along the popular phrase and concept of “cancel culture.” As celebrities continue to take part in performative activism, they also feel a specific pressure from the public; however, their photo ops are more prevalent than the actual support they may be providing.

“It is very easy for somebody to put BLM in their bio, post one picture and especially if they’re popular or white, like Charli D’amelio, it can be easily taken as, ‘omg they support,’” said Fox.

There are a tremendous amount of celebrities who have been called out, such as Kendall Jenner and her Pepsi commercial when she hands a Pepsi to a police officer on the other side of the protest. When she hands it to him, it’s supposed to represent the unison of law enforcement and the protestors, although what isn’t recognized is that Jenner is white. The commercial ultimately showcases her privilege and represents something that many black people were not fighting for. They were not fighting for Jenner to be the face of the Black Lives Matter movement, but to fight for their own lives against the system that has failed them.

Inherently, performative activists take away the focus from social media creators who are a part of a movement and they can easily misinform the public. The benefits of performative activism boil down to the spread of awareness despite the performative activists lack of desire for change. It’s easy to ignore the individuals who participate in performative activism, but by allowing them to use social media as a playground for ingenuine and unresourceful posts, it will only conceal the activists and true meaning of activism.

As the awareness of recent humanitarian crises increases, such as the Palestine and Israel conflict or the hunger crisis in Yemen, social media continues to be used by people and celebrities to popularize themselves by creating a facade of activism. The frequent re-posting of images or resources is not helpful at this point in the world, not only because of its ineffectiveness but because it has become routine to “care.” Performative activism is not the definition of sympathy, and it ultimately does not display the person’s care for the matter. Instead of contributing to the tension and insensitivity on social media, why not put forth the same amount of energy it took to re-post an image to actually contribute to the change that needs to be made?

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