Leave performance for the stage: the negative effects of performative allyship

Naomi Hancock, News Editor

In recent months, I’ve had several interactions with friends who label themselves as advocates for Black Lives Matter, ACAB (All cops are bastards), and other civil rights and justice movements. 

But there have been moments when I’m speaking to these friends, attempting to have a conversation surrounding these topics, when they are unable to provide their personal reasons for supporting and advocating for their selected movement. Rather, they took something they saw on social media and adapted it into their personal beliefs without any real understanding of what it means to be an ally, and what the real issues with our civil institutions are.

Later on, I would realize there was a name for what was happening: performative activism. Performative activism, or allyship, is when someone claims that they support something, and are public advocates for said movement, but their advocacy stems from wanting to seem relevant and “in the know” to their friends and followers. In short, performative activists claim to support a movement, but might not care as much as they let on publicly, let alone understand it.

I once explained the issue of performative allyship on social media to my parents, and they said that they didn’t see the issue if people were still spreading messages that are productive to the issue they “advocate” for.

If we’re looking at it from that perspective, performative allyship isn’t too big of an issue. The point of advocacy is to draw people in to support your cause. The performative issue does increase awareness, with more people spreading information that is generally beneficial for the cause, regardless of their intent.

But the problem with performative allyship comes from a moral perspective. One recent major example of widespread performative allyship was on June 2, the day social media coined as “Blackout Tuesday.” On that day, millions of users on Instagram posted black squares on their accounts that represent their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

However, one of the issues that arose regarding Blackout Tuesday came in the days following, when critics noticed that those who posted the squares typically didn’t post anything else relevant towards Black Lives Matter until specifically called out. 

So essentially, Patty Patriot posted her little black square and then did nothing to support the movement ever again.

Some people who are avidly anti-BLM posted the squares while they continue to use racist terms that consistently contradict their public claims. Behind closed doors (or sometimes even not), some of these “advocates” will use racist phrases such as “All Lives Matter,” a direct opposer to BLM, and sometimes continue to use the N-word in their vocabulary as a non-Black individual.

As a result of performative allyship, those who choose not to educate themselves may begin spreading harmful messages that they might not realize have a negative effect. 

One example of this is how many people believe that the slogan ACAB’s definition is something around how all cops are bad. This large misconception alienates people from the cause, and they won’t see the true message: that there is a fundamental problem with how America’s policing system is structured.

With the current political climate and worries around the newly-filled Supreme Court seat, a question begins to linger in the air for Black individuals: who are my real allies?