I’m tired of the performance activism: it’s useless
As the Black Lives Matter movement takes center stage in today’s political climate, many brands and influencers have jumped on the bandwagon of allyship and social advocacy. Yet, as they change their profile photo to the “BLM” logo in solidarity, I can’t help but question the real intention behind this sudden activism. I see right through the acts of solidarity and find it nothing but a performance.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been ongoing since 2014. Yet, until the senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, most brands had largely remained silent. Now, six years since the beginning of the movement, we finally see brands and organizations becoming more engaged. But we aren’t being fooled; they are engaged in performance activism for self-interested reasons instead of a genuine desire to end systemic oppression.
An audience, the actor, the consumers, and the brand. We all can see right through it. We see the activism to gain social capital, rather than devotion to the actual movement. We hear the empty statements. We see you making Black Lives Matter merchandise and profiting off of it. Detecting performative activism isn’t an exact science, but the occurrence can be seen through a company’s actual behaviors compared to its claimed values.
Performance activism is especially seen in today’s political climate. For example, many brands sell BLM merchandise and promote the cause on their social media. Yet, their actions show a history of inequality within the company. Take Jeff Bezos, the richest man on earth, who faced scrutiny for Amazon’s treatment of its employees after unfairly firing a black man for complaining about Amazon’s mishandling of COVID-19. What a contradiction, coming from a company that tweets it is fighting against the “inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country.”
Along with this, many influencers have been “canceled” for making paradoxical statements, such as publicly supporting the BLM movement, then later showing their support for a presidency that refuses to denounce white supremacy.
In addition to Amazon, numerous brands, influencers, and companies have been “canceled” for not practicing what they preach. Corporate statements of solidarity with the black community are a necessary first step, but certainly not enough. In addition to their words, companies need to focus on increasing equity and diversity within their own ranks. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
As we have recently seen, many organizations participating in performative activism disguised as social corporate advocacy, have been exposed for their lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Brands like these are the problem.
In the digital age, it’s easier to recognize the brands and influencers who participate in the highest form of corporate hypocrisy. It’s clear that social media activism trends such as Instagram’s #blackouttuesday and the black square are not a sufficient act of solidarity. Open your purse, and actually contribute to the movement in a way that makes a real difference.
We now know that it is in a brand’s financial favor to support social movements such as Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, this enables performative activism among brands.
So what do we actually want? We want to see brands that hire more people of color. We want to see a real increase in diversity from the bottom to the top. We want to see true corporate social advocacy in which brands use both their monetary and social influence to help accelerate the movement toward equality.
By Julia Gallegos
Julia is a senior at San Diego State University studying Public Relations. Currently, she is a social media intern for Meals on Wheels nonprofit. After graduation, she hopes to continue traveling and step into a career that will help her community.