Selective and Performative Activism: Silent Issues That Must Be Squashed
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
A selective activist is described as someone who finds some issues more important than others, even when the perceived goals are the same. This is also based on personal preference. When it comes to social activism people like to pick and choose what they want to fight for. One might fight for women’s rights, but only for the issues that directly affect them. Or they may fight for racial equality, but not religious equality. They may choose to fight for LGBTQ+ issues but only focus on gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues, ignoring half of the community ranging from queer, transgender, or questioning peoples. This happens far too often.
We tend to only care about the issues that directly affect us, and ignore the ones that don't because they don’t resonate with us on a personal level. However, just because a certain issue does not affect you personally does not make it any less valid or less worth fighting for. As a social justice advocate, we have to be willing to fight for everything and anything. We need to stand for every single form of social injustice, not just the ones that we deem to be, “the easiest to overcome.”
This is not only an ignorant act, but it is also an unsympathetic one. When we ignore or invalidate the issues that certain groups face every day, we do not show our empathy nor our support. Instead, we ourselves become a part of the problem. If we are all working to achieve equality, then we must work together. There are so many issues that affect so many people, prohibiting them from living the lives that they wish to lead. We cannot and must not just look at a list of problems and decide which ones are worth our time.
We must be able to fight for all issues for all people. It is not okay to pick and choose what we want to change. We have to be willing to change everything. There are so many people in this world who face different issues and circumstances, some that we may never be able to even comprehend, but we have to show validation and recognition for those causes. We need to stand together to fight all social issues for all people. That is the only way that we will finally achieve equality.
Selective activism is a silent issue that cannot go unnoticed. Along with this issue of selective activism brings about the problem of performative activism, another detrimental problem that is further threatening our ability to achieve equality.
Performative activism or performative allyship is when someone from that same nonmarginalized group professes support and solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful or that actively harms that group. Performative allyship usually involves the “ally” receiving some kind of reward — on social media, it’s that virtual pat on the back for being a “good person” or “on the right side.” Whereas an ally is someone from a nonmarginalized group who utilizes their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group. They transfer the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it.
Although it must be made clear that no one is completely exempt from this behavior, for example, one may discuss the harm that factory farming has on our planet and then choose to consume dairy or meat products. Many feel the urge to say something, especially with the constant reminders that to be silent is to be complicit. But we must recognize this behavior and the harm that it is inflicting, the problem with this behavior is that it is not only damaging but it allows for excusal. It excuses privileged people from making the personal sacrifices necessary to touch the depth of the systemic issues it claims to address. If an individual hashtagged #sayhisname or posted a black square on Instagram, they believe that they’ve, “done their part.” But this is not enough.
This does not by any means make you a bad person, a racist, or insinuate that you do not care. It just means that you need to do more - and more so, we need to do more. It is critical to realize when we are being performative and we are not. So what can we do to help instead?
There are numerous ways in which one can exert their privilege for good and be an ally in a time when we need you most. You can support BIPOC-owned, women-owned, or LGBTQ+ owned businesses. Actively search for products you use regularly and find alternatives made by BIPOC, women, or members of the LGBTQ+ community. Call out friends, relatives, or peers when you hear them say something that is not in support of allyship. Finally, and most importantly, inform yourself about what is going on in the world around you and in your community. Ask your friends within marginalized communities about their experiences and listen, without putting in your own two cents. Engage in ways to confront your own bias so you can become the best form of an ally that you can be.
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