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What Performative Activism Is And How You Can Avoid It

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and many other Black Americans due to racial violence, many have been looking for ways on how to better support the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, some of these acts of allyship which are intended to lend support to the Black community do not actually contribute to efforts to dismantle racism. Instead, they end up spotlighting the ally more than anything else.

Protester with \"Remember their Names\" sign
Photo by Donovan Valdivia from Unsplash
Performative activism can be best defined as activism intended to boost the image of the ally rather than support the issue at hand. It is performative because this kind of allyship is like a staged performance. Just as an actor is not the character they play, a performative ally is not the supportive ally they claim to be.

One form of performative activism is virtue signaling. This means making your contributions to the cause widely known in an effort to boost your public image. Genuine allies lend their support without expecting public applause or brownie points in return. This means donating, protesting and lending other forms of support without needing to make your contributions known to others. 

Another example of performative activism is publicly supporting the cause only after you were held accountable for your inaction or simply because everyone else is doing it. True supporters contribute to the cause without needing to being encouraged by others. More so, activism is not a trend that goes in and out of style. It’s a commitment to always supporting the cause, regardless of how many people are currently supporting the movement.

Protesters with \"End White Silence\" signs
Photo by Mike Von from Unsplash
Genuine activism means actually taking action to support the cause. It will take much more than changing your profile picture or adding a hashtag to your Instagram bio to create sustainable change. Genuine allies must take accountability for their privilege and previous history of inaction. It’s crucial that allies start off by doing their own research on the issue at hand and what they can do to help. Being an ally means being okay with the idea of being uncomfortable sometimes. It means having uncomfortable discussions with your friends and family online or in-person. Genuine activists commit to supporting the cause in any way they can, regardless of the social consequences.

Giselle is a fourth-year Communications major at UCLA, currently serving as the President in her chapter. In her free time, you can find her meditating or spending too much money on her infinite skincare routine.
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