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How #BlackoutTuesday ignited the performative activist movement

Mia Raspanti

Art Director

Image via Caroline Niehoff

The average woke twenty-something sleeps through her only class of the day, picks up her favorite Starbucks iced coffee and starts scrolling through her Instagram feed. While looking through the posts of her favorite irreputable account, she begins her daily news-briefing. She sees a post about a Black man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the use of a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. Using her newfound knowledge, she decides to step in and make a difference. After posting a black screen on her account and even adding #BLM to her bio, she proceeds about her day and believes that she has done more than enough in the support of this movement.

She chooses not to attend the Black Lives Matter protest down the street.

Your favorite one-stop-shop is celebrating pride month with the launch of their new pride and LGBTQ+ collection. Rainbows paint t-shirts, water bottles and advertisements. The day after pride month ends, the CEO makes a two million dollar donation supporting the use of conversion camps.

Performative activism is the act of partaking in or showing support for a social justice movement not because you believe in it, but in an attempt to gain social capital. The ignition of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 was the gasoline to the flame that now is the normalization of ‘slacktivism’ and the prevalence of ‘woke’ culture.

The famous black square posts, popularly known as #BlackoutTuesday is one of the most ill-reputed archetypes of performative activism at its core. Having been created with the intention of showing awareness for the exploitation of black artists in the music industry, the media quickly took this and ran with it… in the complete opposite direction.

#BlackoutTuesday had soon taken the internet by storm, however not with the initial intentions. The black square, according to the majority of posters, was shared in order to represent those who stand in support and solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement. Conversely, their homogenous and continuous posting of these black squares instead withheld dozens of helpful resources, critical areas of contact, educational materials and general information on the movement.

In this instance, it is clear that many of those who took part in the superficial media movement of #BlackoutTuesday posted the square with the intention of coming across as a supporter to their online following without taking part in any of the actual work that helps make a difference.

The advocacy one displays for their beliefs stands significantly different from actually partaking in the fight for change. There lies a distinct line between genuine engagement and allyship, and surface-level support. Social justice is not a fad, nor a mainstream corporate piggy bank.

Educating yourself is the first step in becoming a true ally of any organization or movement. You have no place to speak on a topic if you are not only properly educated, but well versed on the matter. In order to prevent offending others and making yourself look stupid, education comes through action and posting on social media is simply not enough.

While depictions of serious topics might come across as advantageous and educational, they don’t truly engender change. Demanding topics are deserving of action beyond social media.

Using your privilege is additionally a vital aspect to not partaking in performative activism. If there is a suppressed voice, amplify it. Acknowledge the struggles of others, utilize your own platform and resources, and be aware of your privilege most of all.

Rhode Island for Community and Justice is one of many resources that can introduce you to local social justice initiatives, coalitions and events.

Use the performativity of one to exemplify the actions you will take upon yourself to make a difference. Remember, actions always speak louder than words.


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