Why Performance Activism Isn’t Enough For The Change We Need In 2019
Is a pin enough?
It’s officially 2019 and I am feeling light, centered, and determined to be the best person I can be this year. I hope you all ate your black-eyed peas for good luck, had a new year kiss and you're thinking about the ways that they can grow in the new year because I sure am.
On New Year's Eve as I sat curating my vision board, I thought about all the things I would bring into 2019, and the attributes that should definitely stay in the past. Along with flat tummy tea ads, and Blac Chyna’s skin bleaching cream, one thing that I want to see gone in 2019 is performative activism.I’m going to define performative activism as well-intended political gestures that overall have no real substance. If you’re confused on what that might look like in real life some examples are: rainbow-colored Oreos, people wearing safety pins and that one co-worker who is constantly throwing out social justice buzzwords without knowing what they actually mean. You get what I’m hinting at?
I think certain aspects of performative activism and even allyship have a time and a place. When I think of folks beginning their journey in unlearning harmful ideology and being committed to revolutionary acts, some of these actions rightly so, are our introductory stepping stones into the world of social justice. However, in a world where social justice has become commodified, statements like the ones listed above seem to be acts of clout coins being collected to seem down for the cause rather than advocating for a group of people. When does the real work start coming into play?
Recently, an individual made a sweeping assumption about my politics because of the way I spoke. This confused me because in the setting this person sees me in, I'm not talking about politics. Come to think about it, I’m usually focused and not trying to talk at all. But because I haven’t used buzzwords that they deemed as “woke” somehow that categorized me as not caring about the wellbeing of marginalized folks?
Now the philosophy I’ve worked hard to adopt is that my actions should speak louder than words. You will know that I advocate for a radical change in our politics because my actions will support that. I shouldn’t have to have Feminist tattooed on my forehead because the way I uplift women and femmes will demonstrate this. I don’t have to scream ‘Black Power’ because you can look at what black businesses I support, how I treat black women, etc.. I don’t need to wear a safety pin to show solidarity with my Muslim siblings because when I see Islamophobia I condemn that immediately. My actions should be in-line and louder, than these empty symbols and gestures we equate with being an ‘activist’.
While social justice being a mainstream focus has provided opportunities for learning, and highlighting important issues, I hope 2019 is the year that we all dive deeper into our political practices. It’s cool to post that cute ‘trans ally’ graphic on Instagram but what am I doing for trans people in real life, every day? It’s awesome to use new language to describe oppression, but is that language to show off my new knowledge or am I using it critically to help the people it directly affects?
I don’t want my activism to be performative. The way I live my life should be representative of my inclusive politics. My commitment to the wellbeing of marginalized folks should be represented in my walk of life and especially in the moments when it’s hard (because yes it is hard). In 2019 we need to show up for the issues we care about. Not just as a hashtag in an Instagram bio or to flex at a meeting, or when it’s cute and convenient.
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