Diet Woke: Performative Activism

Don’t let your activism begin and end with an Instagram post.

America is angry. Australia is angry. Our Instagram feeds are angry. “If you’re not outraged by black deaths in custody then you are a part of the problem.” Amen. Of course I’m outraged. 

I’ve been weighing up whether or not to write this, the same way I’ve cautiously weighed up every intention to participate in Instagram chains or share Tweets of James Baldwin or Desmond Tutu quotes. As a white Australian it’s important that I be critical of every form of protest or solidarity I intend to engage with. 

The show of solidarity on #BlackoutTuesday yesterday was beautiful, yes — probably as breathtaking as a protest carried out across digital platforms can be. So why did it leave so many of us feeling queasy?

Black square, after black square, after black square. Most posts captioned simply with either #BlackLivesMatter or #BlackoutTuesday. Whilst the people posting had their hearts in the right place, I noticed as I scrolled further into the void that almost nil posts had any actual useful information or resources attached to them. I can’t imagine the frustration this must have sparked for protestors in the States, many of whom communicate and stay up to date via the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. The black squares effectively buried the voices of those most in need of being amplified. 

Adding to that, the majority of friends in my feed participating in the blackout were people who’d never struck me as particularly politically engaged. It’s as if all of a sudden being ‘woke’ is ‘trendy’. These issues have been destroying lives long before the murder of George Floyd, so why choose to speak up now? Is it pressure from virtue signalling wars that take place on social media? White guilt? I’m not trying to be a complete Grinch — it’s wonderful that so many people are getting engaged so rapidly — but the effect of #BlackoutTuesday is what happens when we don’t stay politically and socially engaged and then try to make up for our inaction by jumping headfirst into some halfhearted performance of activism. Activism is more than turning up to a rally with a witty sign or unfollowing D****d T***p on Twitter.

This is my issue with ‘Diet Wokeness’ and performative activism. When people flood to social media to ‘show their support’ and ‘engage in a movement’ this is exactly what we get. The largest outlets for news and platforms for voices becomes inundated with unknowing and uneducated people vying for social capital. Which is exactly why it is crucial for those of us with power and privilege to constantly assess and be critical of the ways in which we decide to utilise that power. 

Instead of raking in the likes on your #BlackoutTuesday post or Desmond Tutu quote for social capital and brownie points, look to those at the helm of the movements (past and present) in need of your support. Be diverse in who/what you read and listen to; one black man does not represent the voice of his entire race, just as Hillary Clinton does not represent the voice of all women and RuPaul does not represent the voice of all queers (although he might disagree if you ask him).

Be open minded and stay open minded to ideas and voices that make you uncomfortable. If you get called out for something, don’t get angry. Be patient, listen, and respond by taking this criticism on board and letting it guide your future actions. 

But most of all, do not make this about you. Confronting the privileges you are afforded by your race and heritage (as well as sex, sexual orientation and socio-economic status) is uncomfortable and requires humility. Carry the lessons you’re learning now into your everyday life; don’t let it begin and end with an Instagram post.

P.S.; Don’t burden BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) with your demands and desires to learn more. Utilise the tools at your disposal to build up your education and understanding; the internet, documentaries, books, speeches at rallies and protests, etc. But DO listen and respect when BIPOC folk impart their experiences and ideas. The same can be applied to all social causes.

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