By now we’ve all seen performative activism. Fiona Moriarty-McLaughlin became notorious almost overnight by having this great moment captured on camera:
There have been tons of people pretending to risk their livelihood in an attempt to protest, but in reality, they do nothing beyond promoting their public image with falsified images. These people tend to do minimal work such as retweeting or sharing a post by activists and then continuing with their daily routine. For them, activism is something you can wear like a jacket and remove when it no longer suits your brand.
This performance is the next level of “for the gram.” A term coined simply for the act of posting fake information for the sake of one’s followers. Instagram personalities are already known to be insidious because they portray a very specific type of aesthetic to strive for but they’re so much worse when they take the place of actual work for global issues.
A prime example of this type of behavior was when a coworker of mine complained about her Instagram feed — she ranted all day about how she was tired of see whatever lives matter and that she did feel bad for George Floyd but that she didn’t want to be assaulted with Instagram posts about the matter. The mention of feeling bad was insidious and on purpose because it was meant to neutralize her position about the matter — not claiming to be one way or the other she was admitting that she only felt bad enough to consider the issue something small to be dismissed. She admitted it was an issue but it’s not important enough to be her issue.
Why even bother mentioning it? My coworker clearly felt strongly enough about the matter to tell people but for all the wrong reasons. Instead this ideology of basic human rights for black people was too invasive to her daily routine — oh, but don’t forget, she did feel bad about it. She should have just stayed silent.
Write it in a journal if she really had to.
Stop pretending to care when you don’t care. No one wants to hear a fake narrative of empathy or care but especially when it benefits no one but the person perpetuating the lie.
Of course one’s individual lack of action is nothing compared to the lack of action provided by most companies. Yeah they’ve got their black lives matter posts but for most that’s the work of a single intern trying to get that good pr. I’m all for second chances but when the policies don’t actually align with their “good wishes” then it’s hard to take empty promises as anything else.
It shouldn’t have to get to the point where the shit hits the fan for a company to wake up and realize their policies are wrong — why do we insist on allowing companies and people to react retroactively?
As a society there are lots of things we sweep under the rug.
I’ll never forget seeing someone post under a Facebook post advocating for Indigenous people on Thanksgiving’s about how they didn’t want to “see that shit at least for a day.” Why? Because you feel guilty about it? Instead of being upset about feeling guilty do something about it. Guilt is not the same as sympathy — sympathy is feeling for someone else and guilt is feeling bad for yourself.
Of course this is all to say you feel anything at all.
Performative action tends to lend itself to the type of mindset where none of the above apply or that it does in such a minimal way that issues can be easily dismissed. Pretending to care about an issue means you acknowledge it is an issue but also that you don’t care enough to deal with it. Issues either become someone else’s problem or not important enough to affect your daily life.
That’s great for those who can think that way but it really paints a picture for those who do have to endure ongoing issues. With the recent black lives matter protests the quick escalation and deescalation really speaks to who gets to be passionate and who gets to go home and forget about it.
For a movement to truly succeed it takes more than pretending to care.
Victims don’t get to forget about the issue. They can’t shed the anxiety or stress of an issue when they go to bed. The problem is that people cannot conceptualize the anxiety and the fear a victim lives with in their day to day lives. It’s not relatable and so it’s dismissible, you can’t quantify trauma when you have no reference point for just how bad it can be. But even if you don’t understand (reminder that you never fully can) you should at least try to learn a person’s perspective.
Not being able to understand shouldn’t stop you. The first step is actually listening to those who say they hurt. That seems simple and silly but it’s often not available to victims. Many a time no one even listens.
You don’t learn about someone’s trauma and then compare it to your own. That’s not listening. That’s a competition.
All Lives Matter is pretending to listen and then saying it’s not as important as these issues you’ve deemed as more important. Most times these issues aren’t even issues at all. Instead they’re used as props to argue the first victim’s voice — silencing them in an attempt to say I hear you but your actions towards rectifying the issue aren’t important to me. Instead, people will bring up another issue that they didn’t think was important enough to advocate for, all for the sake of saying these issues are on the same level. In reality if it makes you angry then get angry — it’s not a competition, if you thought your point was important then you should get mad too.
But that kind of energy is asking for too much. People aren’t upset about the issues, they’re upset those issues are interrupting their normal day. Ignorance is when a person doesn’t know any better. For some it really is a learning moment but other times it’s because the person in question doesn’t want to learn. I often hear that I should be a teacher — that I need to be lenient towards those who wrong me because they didn’t know any better.
But why didn’t they know any better? It’s not like we never hear racism exists. If you’re the type of person to care why wouldn’t you want to learn more when your black friend says many things haven’t changed for them? There’s ignorance because you never learned better and then there’s ignorance because people don’t think it’s important enough to learn. Unfortunately it’s much more common than you think.
So why is performative action as bad as the lack of empathy in ignorance?
Because pretending to care is misleading, you’re saying to those around you that you’re committed to change when you aren’t. What difference does it make to say sign a petition if you don’t sign the petition yourself? Companies who give the equivalent of pennies to organizations for a tax break don’t mean anything if you aren’t committed to learning why diversity doesn’t exist in the board room to begin with.
There are those that will say the talent just isn’t there and they hire the best but if that’s the case why does nepotism exist? It’s not about the best it’s about the best from those candidates you even bothered to look at. And who’s to say what the criteria is for the best? Why do I need to carry 50lbs in an office job? Is it because differently abled people won’t necessarily be able to carry 50lbs so you’re automatically disqualified? Can you verify that? It’s a shitty thing to think but it happens. People are eliminated long before they even get to the list of candidates over arbitrary things that don’t make sense. But at least people are committed to change. They posted a blackout post and feel bad so it’s the same thing as change, right? Stop pretending and say you don’t care so the rest of us know who really isn’t on our side.