Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: Performative activism isn’t cute

It’s a cake with swirly designs that reads “abortion is healthcare.” Or a Canva-esque infographic advocating against microaggressions in the workplace. Or a social media post depicting one of the two. 

Performative activism comes in many forms — and in waves — with resurgence following a social movement that people can pin themselves to and claim individual wokeness.

These graphics, cakes or makeup looks spouting LGBTQ+ information aren’t intentionally hateful, but can be silencing and disingenuous. I think there is an element of kindness there — to put effort into trying to spread information to help a social cause. 

In my mind, it’s not shared out of place of hate, but rather ignorance. 

Infographics with cutesy designs on social media that encourage others to be as socially conscious as they perceive themselves to be detract from the main message of a social movement. A prime example is the black squares that circulated Instagram for “Blackout Tuesday” in 2020.

The squares were intended to be in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — something that hadn’t stopped since 2013 but gained resurgence in spring 2020. “Blackout Tuesday,”  however, did more harm than good. Posts clogged up the Instagram algorithm, preventing those looking for actual information on protests and helpful organizations from doing so, only to be met with a black square instead. 

Similarly, infographics were shared with #PrayforLebanon during an explosive strike at a port in Beirut. In the midst of death and destruction in Lebanon, social media users shared infographics on their stories, displaying how to help the country in the wake of the explosion. While sharing may have been in good nature, it’s insensitive to those who lost their lives and the families affected by the explosive blast. 

In both cases, good intentions became laced with ignorance. That ignorance — no matter how well intended their actions — does more harm than good. 

Communities that are suffering need to be uplifted. They need a space to be listened to and understood. In the case of Lebanon, donations to relief organizations to help those who lost their homes and families to the explosion would do more than performative activism. It would do something tangible. Similarly for the BLM movement, donating funds to families of police brutality victims, or attending marches in support, does more than a hashtag. 

Every time a new social movement pops up, like clockwork, a swarm of infographics showing how you can be the most socially active appear. It happens with climate change, abortion laws and police brutality. 

Insensitivity is a disease — one that we need to get better at treating. It’s not that the resources to help aren’t there. It’s that they’re so hidden by black squares and hashtags, we don’t see them.

Curren Gauss (she/her) is a junior studying English with a minor in Playwriting. She hopes to someday have a job.

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