Performative activism, or activism being done to help one's own self rather than the cause, can be easy for many to fall into. However, it needs to be avoided.
While it's important for people to be socially aware and act to bolster causes they believe in, it's equally important these decisions are made for the right reasons and have a constructive impact. This distinction has caused national debate in recent months regarding the best ways to advocate for causes.
It can be especially difficult for young people positively participate in activism. Many have only recently been introduced to activism through their screens, and others want to help advocate but don't know where to start.
Remember #BlackoutTuesday? Black squares were posted on social media platforms as a way to spark conversation and raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd's murder. In reality, these posts made it difficult for users looking in the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to find information, such as resources and fundraisers, which undermined the movement's goal and silenced many Black voices.
Performative activism takes out the central point of activism – uplifting others – and makes it about your image and popularity instead. It can directly harm the causes it is supposed to support by distracting from the real issue. This leads people to believe they are helping despite not actually contributing to the cause by donating, protesting, signing petitions and so on.
So, if posting on social media isn't helping the issue, how can one be a “good” activist?
Electrical engineering student Ramy Alawar and geology student Sophie Luna, both fourth-year students, spoke about their experiences in activism and social justice. Alawar has worked in numerous community outreach programs, including Food Not Bombs, a volunteer community program that recovers food to serve the public. Luna was an organizer in the Coalition to Fire David Voros and is a member of the Carolina Socialists.
“It’s not a job that one person can do. It’s not that you’re an activist. It’s that you’re one of many activists. You’re a part of activism,” Said Luna.
Working and learning with others passionate about a shared issue is how movements grow and spread. Your role as an activist is not to elevate yourself or your status, but rather is to uplift others and participate in a cause. Helping others, working within your community and making contributions is what is most important, not your image.
Taking the time to educate yourself is also imperative.
Alawar defined politics as “the struggle for sovereignty, the struggle for autonomy and the struggle for self-determination." He says that once there is a understanding of this can be used to lead your path on advocacy.
“Once you start to understand that, all of the theory and movements and history that you start to study, start to think of it in those terms and then start to think 'how can I apply this in my own community?'” Says Alawar.
Both emphasized the importance of action with intent and knowing that activism is meant to serve others, rather than yourself.
Good intentions are understandable and common, but without the determination and action behind it, they remain as simply intentions.