Performative activism vs Genuine Activism
Matthew: You're listening to The Solidarity Podcast; we're your hosts
Natalia: Natalia Estévez and
Matthew: Matthew Ondeyo. So last episode we wrapped up our Patriarchy series; However, this episode we want to touch base on Activism within the BLM (Black Lives Matter) Movement.
So there's two different practices of Activism. There's performative activism, which is activism based on social trends rather than actual concern. And there is also Genuine Activism, which is real concern and action taken against oppressive institutions
Natalia: To begin, I’m going to highlight some examples of performative activism within our generation. Due to the fact that our generation gets most of their information from social media, the messages and intentions behind certain social issues tend to get blurred between the lines and more often than not, ignored. When these movements become ignored, people tend to create their own narrative and perspective on these important issues -- mostly resulting in a negative or wrong representation about the movement. For example, when the BLM movement became increasingly recognized in the summer, multiple people who had good intentions in supporting the movement ultimately made the movement even less recognized. There was a popular social media trend of posting a black square on instagram in order to show “solidarity” with the BLM movement; however, the issue with this was that those who posted this used BLM hashtags that flooded the feed of that certain hashtag, causing for other BLM information to be shadowed with black squares instead of valuable content. What people failed to consider was what exactly are they doing by showing this “solidarity” because now these voices that were once amplified, even a little, are even more shunned and shut out. Performative activists tend to go the easier route with their advocacy: “if i post this pretty picture saying that racism is bad, then that’ll be enough” or “if people see that i posted a black square, they won’t think i’m racist”, but what they don’t consider, is “what is my next step?” “How do I show others that i am intentional about these issues and that i want to do more than the bare minimum in solving or help recognizing these issues?” That is what our generation struggles with the most : next step actions. We focus too much on what can i do right now rather than what can i do for the future that’ll have longer lasting effects than a 24 hour story post. That is what mainly separates performative activists and learning/educated activists who are intentional with their advocacy.
Matthew: Now, we understand that it is very difficult to come up with solutions to combat oppression. There is this notion that ideal activism calls for something rambunctious. Truth is, activism varies; depending on which means you can provide, there is always room for effective progress. Different calls to action include: protesting, petitioning, and just about anything that includes donating your time, money, or mind. All of which, I'd like to note, youth are capable of doing. These different aspects of activism eventually lead to a high level of introspection and social curiosity. Both of which are characteristics that create powerful, empathetic individuals. Many youth activists such as: Zee Thomas who is 15 years old, Nya Collins who is 17, and Thandiwe Abdullah who also is 17 took it upon themselves to shed light upon systemic racism by demonstrating protests throughout the summer of 2020. Though young, this did not restrict them from creating change. Not all may be as brave as these teens, but may this be a token of inspiration for all youth to stand up for what they believe in, to their own extent in which they feel necessary.
Natalia: Now that we have those two different distinctions on how activism can be seen in youth, I’d like to expand on the topic of how performative activism can be seen in the workplace. Such as employers from large companies and businesses having the tendency to upkeep their image by hiring not only mainly male employees, but they will also hire white-passing minorities. This leads to a continuous trend of Black, Brown, and Asian people “whitening” their resumes in order to cater towards these businesses to even approach the same level of recognition as their white counterparts. Researchers from Stanford University and the University of Toronto created a study titled “Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market” where they analyzed the extent to which racial discrimination can impact minority job seekers, and what they choose to implement in their resumes. They conducted 3 different experiments that dealt with the context of whitening resumes: one was an in person interview, making it difficult for the student to further cover their racial identity, another was an examination on how job seekers respond to different job positions and if/how they possibly altered their resume, and the last experiment dealt with responses to whitened and original resumes. The evidence from these experiments state that “job seekers are less likely to whiten their résumés when targeting an organization that presents itself as being committed to workplace diversity. They also found that “The proportion of those who engaged in résumé whitening was about 1.5 to 2 times lower when the employer was presented as an organization that values diversity.” Although minorities might feel more comfortable with displaying their true identities, there is still a large gray area in which employers will claim that they are racially inclusive when in reality, there is little to no representation. This inevitably leads to “minority job seekers might try to avoid discrimination by omitting or strategically presenting race-related information in their job application materials” such as Michael Luo’s New York Times article that examined Yvonne Orr, a black woman who was looking for jobs in Chicago and took out a position at an African American nonprofit from her resume in order to increase her chances of getting a callback and even a possible job. This phenomenon is not rare because many minorities will “dial back” or conceal some aspects about their racial background in order to seem more pleasing and acceptable due to the fact that most big businesses are run by powerful, white men, resulting in a never ending cycle of Black people being shut out and ignored when it comes to authoritative and important positions. However, this continued performatism can be corrected once addressed.
Matthew: In order to combat the nuances of performative activism, it's important to recognize that power is precarious when people collectively unionize and come together. Regardless whether or not systemic systems refuse to compromise, with enough impact, progress will be made. To those of you who think: “what's the point?” “What difference will I make on my own?” I say: these pressing issues are generational and you’re not going to dismantle it on your own. The common goal is to recognize your play in it, do your part, and these institutions of oppression will dismantle piece by piece.
To quote Dr Escontrías from the department of Critical Theory and Social Justice at Occidental College,
“No injustice cured, is too small.”