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  • Kamsi Obiorah

Performative Activism Is the Tool of the White Moderate

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

When asked to think of a classic example of peer pressure, our minds often go to an image of a young teenager being intimidated by their friend to smoke their first cigarette. We might even visualize the image of a high school football player bullying the “class nerd” to maintain his status as the "cool kid." I, personally, recall the scene from Mean Girls, where Cady Heron is pressured by the popular girls at North High School to throw a party at her house that weekend.

All three of these examples present a common theme: individualism versus conformity. As individuals of society, we are quick to act in a way that conforms with another person’s beliefs, while completely disregarding our own.

We get easily caught up in the opinions of the masses and fail to take the time to consider what it is that we actually think. These sentiments are the backbone of performative activism: an indirect form of peer pressure.

Performative activism is the concept in which people are influenced to advocate for certain social and racial justice issues. It is a way to seek validation from others. It is a way for the white moderate to do the bare minimum in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Some may argue that performative activism is still activism.

This argument suggests that we should still applaud the people who put so little effort into calling attention to the deeply-rooted racism in American society. This argument fails to take into account the impressionability among the minds of the youth. When a celebrity fails to use their platform to advocate for victims of systematic racism, their fan base assumes that their idol does not believe that such issues are worth caring for.

This situation can lead to a simple case of “monkey see, monkey do.” The fan base will take on the beliefs of the celebrity, instead of having their own opinions. When supermodels Cara Delevigne and Kendall Jenner “showed their support” for the Black Lives Matter movement by tagging other rich and famous people in their Instagram stories with the hashtag Black Lives Matter, it influenced their fans to participate in the detrimental trend as well. Instead of donating to Black Lives Matter funds and signing petitions, people chose to tag each other in Instagram story chains.

Performative activism is peer pressure’s ugly sister. It removes much needed attention from more important issues at hand. Blackout Tuesday bore the brunt of slacktivism at its worst. Blackout Tuesday was a social media initiative started by two black women in the music marketing industry: Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang.

Blackout Tuesday was intended to hold the giants of the music media industry accountable for profiting off the hard work of people of color. Blackout Tuesday hit the ground running on June 2.

When I woke up that morning, I was immediately distraught. My Instagram feed was flooded with images of black screens. I felt attacked. I felt the pain of Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, when they realized that their brilliant idea had turned into another social media trend.

The message of Blackout Tuesday was forever lost in the Instagram feeds of black pictures. Blackout Tuesday is just one example of many in which people do the bare minimum in proving to their peers that they are not racist.

Performative activism is not a myth. It is very much alive and well now as it was during segregation in the 1950s, when Southern “liberals” under Jim Crow mistreated blacks to appeal to voters, while secretly telling African Americans “that they didn’t mean it” and would “take care of them afterwards.”

As a community, we need to demand true effort. We need to demand that people form a real connection with racial justice issues. It is pertinent that we put an end to slacktivism. Performative activists are nothing more than the Southern “liberals” who weaponized African Americans for their own gain. The use and abuse of the black community has to stop.

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