In light of the recent events happening in the United States surrounding the George Floyd and now Jacob Blake protests, you’ve probably seen a plethora of Black Lives Matter (BLM) posts on your feed. The prevalence of BLM content seems to indicate that people are becoming more aware of the systemic discrimination present in both the United States and Canada. However, another term, “performative allyship,” has been floating around social media in retaliation to the movement, targeting people who, for example, simply post a black square on their feed to show their solidarity.
So, what exactly is performative allyship? Simply put, performative allyship activism is a form of virtue signalling. It’s an attempt to show how moral one is by aligning themselves with a just cause, thereby portraying themselves as acceptable to others. Performative allyship has been criticized as dangerous: if people of the non-BIPOC community are posting black squares or reposting popular BLM related posts to seem “woke” or “cool,” it could potentially hurt the movement.
However, although some people are, unfortunately, only posting BLM content to fit in, social media platforms continue to be an incredible tool to educate others in this day and age.
For example, suppose Mary has 1,200 followers on her Instagram, and all she’s been seeing is BLM feed on her page. Perhaps she’s never heard of the Black Lives Matter movement before, and to fit in, she reposts an image titled “Justice for George Floyd” on her Instagram story.
Now one of two things just happened: Mary simply reposted the story on her feed and forgot about it, but, while doing so, directly contributed to the chain of education onto her 1200 followers. Any number of people from her follower count now has the opportunity to read into the George Floyd story and further educate themselves.
Or number two, Mary became interested in the George Floyd name she sees popping up around her and researches his story. From there, she reads article after article that informs her of the serious problem facing the world today: systemic discrimination. In both cases, at least one person benefitted from the virtue signalling that Mary participated in, whether it was one of her 1200 followers or Mary herself. There’s no saying what Mary or someone from her follower group will do from this point forward. They may, too, keep reposting for the sake of fitting in. Still, the possibility that even one person among Mary’s mutual followers and friends takes it upon themselves to become a true ally—meaning listening to racialized communities, adjusting personal behaviours, and having difficult conversations with those against the BLM movement—is worth having some virtue signallers in our feed.
I will give a personal example to show how I benefitted from someone’s potential performative activism. Back in June, I saw a few posts on Instagram from my friends about a list of movies to watch to educate yourself about the history of Black lives in America. I screenshotted the list, and in the next week, I binged watched movies such as Selma, 13th, andWhen They See Us, all directed by Ava DuVernay. These movies taught me how deep-rooted systemic racism is, especially in the United States, and opened my eyes to Canada’s similarly severe issues. I would have never gotten this opportunity to watch these eye-opening films had it not been for my friends and peers who kept reposting the same content. Although some of them may have just been mindlessly reposting the list to seem “woke,” I was able to educate myself and pay it forward by recommending this list personally to others.
The main idea to keep in mind is that the impact matters more than the intention. Although there are people who repost BLM content on their feed to be seen as acceptable by peers, there is no way of measuring the impact their post has on their many followers. Moreover, many, like me, may take it upon themselves to use this abundance of content to become more aware of racial injustices and therefore, take the first steps to become a better ally.