Let's Talk About Activism, Part 2

Ever since I can remember, Barnard was my first choice for college. I remember touring Barnard and Columbia when I was sixteen and thinking to myself, this is perfect. Four years later, and halfway through my sophomore year, I am still very much in love with this school. Our honeymoon phase has, however, come to an end. If you've ever lived somewhere or with someone for an extended period of time, you know what I mean. When I began dating my boyfriend he described my pug-like breathing as endearing, but at this point I'm pretty sure he just wants me to stop being such a mouth breather so he can hear what Chris Harrison has to say without subtitles. That's how I feel about college. I still love Barnard/Columbia (as, I hope, my boyfriend still loves me), but the rose-colored glasses have come off. Or perhaps you could say that they were forcefully removed. By whom, you ask? By the overwhelming number of performative activists on this campus. There, I said it. What are you going to do about it? Post a picture of me on your story? #SaveTheTurtles. 

If you've read part one of this thrilling rant, you know that I have a problem with how many students go about their activism at Columbia University. Too many of the people I've encountered are more concerned about pushing forward their own brand of activism than supporting inclusive and effective movements.

This is not to say that every form of organized activism is valid. Feminism that isn't intersectional is, dare I say, trash. I'm not writing this article to dismiss the nuances of organized activism - I am writing it to suggest that we organize and mobilize, rather than waste time and energy on "woke" Instagram stories and personal attacks on people who we believe are not on our level of "woke-ness." I'm unpleasantly surprised by the number of people I've encountered who are more concerned with stroking their own egos than actually contributing to the causes they claim to support.

Since listicles are all the rage these days, here are four things that I believe should be avoided for more productive activism:


  1. 1. Performative activism

    I understand the importance of social media. Nowadays, it's easier to reach people through Instagram/Facebook posts than news publications directly. As such, sharing articles (from verified news sources) that you believe are significant on social media is a good thing - the more informed people are, the better. Op-eds are great, too. Sharing an article on your Instagram story with pertinent commentary is all good and well. Slapping a (outdated) picture of Amazon fire with the hashtag "save the Amazon" on your story does absolutely nothing. Are you effectively informing anyone on the issue? No. Are you providing your audience with new insight on the matter? No. Have you even bothered to research and share images/information from a credible news source? In most cases, no! And some people have the audacity to say that this form of "activism" is necessary because "no one is talking about" issues. Certain issues, for one reason or another, receive less attention in the media than others. This is a fact. However, I myself have shared at least five different articles from credible news sources about the devastating fires in the Amazon - don't blame journalists for your failure to do your research instead of just reposting your friend's story. I am from Brazil, and I had been raging for months about how pro-environmental laws were being dissolved at an alarming rate under Jair Bolsonaro's presidency. 

    Massive amounts of oil have been dumped in the ocean in Brazil and no one on my feed seems to care. I guess this issue is simply not as trendy as the Amazon fires - or perhaps the "woke" Instagram pages everyone seems to follow have not yet provided stock photos and heart-wrenching captions people can repost onto their stories. If your definition of activism is reposting inaccurate and ineffective Instagram stories and progressive memes, perhaps it is time to reflect on what motivates you as an activist: there's a difference between seeking out personal social gain, and working towards effective social change. 

  2. 2. Personal attacks and buzzwords

    I have met many a buzzword warrior on this campus. If someone is sexist or racist, by all means label them accordingly: when I see a spade, I call it a spade. Just know that if the entirety of your argument relies on personal attacks (i.e. ad hominem) or an excessive use of buzzwords, it's a flawed argument. If you have a strong case supported by facts, you will find that there is no need to rely on personal remarks and/or buzzwords - this will only diminish your credibility. 

    With that in mind, a quick reminder: the oppressed have no obligation to explain their oppression to their oppressor. To all the men with whom I have patiently argued with and tried to educate on feminism, it was not my responsibility to do so. I was just being nice.  

  3. 3. Assumptions about another person's identity/beliefs

    I've already discussed this briefly in part one of this article, but no one has the obligation to justify their identity or beliefs. If you assumed, chances are you assumed wrong. Shutting someone out of a conversation based on your perception of their identity is extremely arrogant. You do not have the final say in the experience of any group, even those which you are a part of. Part of feminism, for instance, is supporting and advocating for all women, and not just the women who you deem to be worthy. Successful feminism is inclusive and intersectional.  

  4. 4. Savior complex

    Bad mistakes can be rooted in good intentions, but when all is said and done, intentions are virtually meaningless. In the words of Diane Nguyen, "I don't think I believe in 'deep down'. I think that all you are is just the things that you do." If "what you do" is speak for social minority groups which you are not a part of in order to feel better about yourself, don't. Stop overcompensating and speaking for groups which you are not a part of. This is not the same thing as positioning yourself as an ally. 

    To be an ally is to talk less and listen more. An ally amplifies the voices of social minorities, but does not overshadow them. They use inclusive language. They do not assume they are superior to others who share their identity, but instead engage them in the conversation. Allies reflect on their actions and intentions, and do not position themselves as saviors. Allies practice what they preach. 

    Learn the difference. 

All of this boils down to a need for self-reflection: I feel as if too many of us are far too convinced of our qualities, and do little to repair our defects.