Civil Right Movements Aren’t Aesthetics

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Daria Burnley, Contributing Writer

Even amid a pandemic, a civil rights movement and our own country committing war crimes and voter suppression against its civilians, some tirelessly motivated individuals will not give up the clout chase.

Since the reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement in March, social media feeds have been dominated by calls to action and protest information. Some platforms enlightened us to new tragedies and injustices committed against Black Americans and their allies across the nation. These same platforms protected protesters by signal-boosting the presence of police or counterprotesters at scheduled demonstrations.

Among the positive achievements of social media, some negative effects are inevitable. In this case, it was the prevalence of performative activism. Those on social media, specifically white people, took the momentum of the BLM movement as a means to grow their social influence or to adopt a “protester aesthetic.” Even worse, some of these performers are utilizing their support of the BLM movement as a tool to debunk their own past allegations of racism and bigotry. To me, it just sounds like the latest version of “I can’t be racist, my friend is Black.”

Performative activism is happening all around us right now. It’s your classmates posting a black screen and never mentioning BLM again. It’s your family saying “Black Lives Matter” then dropping the N-word. It’s a Black fist emoji in the bio with “not all cops are bad” in the caption.

Privileged white people are completely ignoring the progress the movement is aiming to achieve. 

Instead, they are more concerned with cancel culture and acceptance from followers. 

As if the performance was not enough of a disappointment, it neglects those actively seeking change. The power and voice once held by Black activists is now being muddled by the constant barrage of meaningless posts of solidarity. On #BlackOutTuesday, the unnecessary black boxes might have been nice on your feed, however, it blocked the actual information and message of the movement. 

There are nearly 22.6 million posts on Instagram for the blackout hashtag, which was created a few months ago. Meanwhile, there are approximately 24 million posts for the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag that has existed for years.

The Black community has fallen victim to revisionism from those in the majority for too long. Black people are expected to be grateful for the absolute bare minimum. That black square trend on Instagram is a bare minimum. Retweeting an article about police reform without reading it is a bare minimum. This constant trend of privileged people giving Black people the bare minimum is completely unacceptable and played out.

We have all heard the saying “actions speak louder than words.” Words in support of something without actions that demonstrate active commitment and care should be kept to yourself. Please stop broadcasting your theater show for all of your friends or fans to see at the cost of true activists. Clout chasing through gentrifying a civil rights movement isn’t the way to go.

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