If You Posted a Black Square On IG – You Shouldn’t Have

This is why performative activism is dangerous

by

Antiracist protests have swept across the world over the last few weeks, triggering a wave of performative activism signified by a single black square on Instagram. They were thought to express solidarity with the movement. Some people captioned their square with ‘#blackouttuesday’ and others chose to use ‘#blacklivesmatter’. 

Soon enough, the hashtag counted 25 million posts. Prominent black activists pondered and investigated the trend’s origins—quickly pointing out to allies their lack of purpose. Their calls went unheard. Black boxes flooded the #blacklivesmatter hashtag, burying a sea of useful, impactful, and inspiring information and images shared by activists and allies over the course of the hashtag’s seven-year existence. 

The black boxes are symbolic of performative allyship. And performative allyship does more harm than good. But there is one thing the black boxes have done: they’ve taught us how to be better allies

To be an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement, and any other antiracist movement around the globe, you need to be using your privilege as a means of support. 

Think of allyship like a transfer (or even a sacrifice) of a privilege afforded to you by your non-blackness to those who are mistreated because of systemic racism. That can take shape in many forms, like attending or organizing protests, being on the frontlines, donating to organizations and movements, signing petitions, educating yourself on how to become antiracist as well as having uncomfortable conversations with racist family members and friends so that black people don’t have to be the ones taking on that labour—which they have been for centuries. 

Performative allyship is, in simple terms, any expression of solidarity with a marginalized group that isn’t helpful and takes the attention away from the marginalized group, or harms them.

The IG black boxes, were harmful. They ultimately overshadowed the emotional and intellectual labour black people have put in to build and sustain the movement. That’s not to say silence is the appropriate alternative. Let us not forget that silence and lack of outrage and support by white people and non-black people of colour was among the long list of injustices that the antiracist movements were built upon. Non-black folks have an unequivocal responsibility to be an active ally in the fight against anti-black racism. 

View this post on Instagram

Social media has been a bit overwhelming since I first put up this post so it has taken some time for me to post this. On Friday, I shared this content on Twitter after I felt the conversations online were like screaming into an echo chamber. I wanted to provide those who wanted to support and be an ally with practical tips to move forward and make a change in our society. I am still somewhat surprised and overwhelmed by the reception so please take patience with me at this time. — For a note on who I am to those who have followed me from Twitter, my name is Mireille. I'm an assistant editor and I do freelance writing, PR and sensitivity reading and other bits on the side. I am extremely passionate about diversity and inclusion, and everything I have shared is not new knowledge to me. From as far back as I can remember I've been campaigning, fighting for equality and supporting and working with black owned organisations. I have worked in the diversity and inclusion space for around four years and I have been equipped with knowledge, skills etc through that work as well as through wider, intensive reading and being raised by a Jamaican mother who has a degree in Women's Studies. I felt as a mixed race person who was emotionally capable despite the current situation that I could use my learned experience, skills and compassion to offer this advice to allies and anyone else who was seeking advice but didn't know where to turn. This is now on my stories as a highlight so please feel free to share from there or here. — A small reminder that this took emotional labour and POC, especially black people are not here to teach you everything. When I said ask how you can support, I meant on a personal level as a friend etc. I hope this toolkit provides you with the starter info you need but there are genuinely people more experienced than me who warrant your listening to – please go and follow @nowhitesaviors, @laylafsaad, @rachel.cargle, @ckyourprivilege, @iamrachelricketts, @thegreatunlearn, @renieddolodge, @ibramxk + a few more: @akalamusic, @katycatalyst + @roiannenedd who all have books or resources from many more years of experience. _

A post shared by Mireille Cassandra Harper (@mireillecharper) on

But allyship requires education. It requires both emotional and intellectual labour on the part of non-black people, which should then be followed through with action. Performative allyship is when one person does one and not the other, or worst of all none at all, resulting in uneducated actions, educated idleness, or pure theatrics for social media clout. 

Here are some examples of what that looks like: 

Blindly participating in social media trends without researching them

View this post on Instagram

@milliebobbybrown #blacklivesmatter

A post shared by Mills💜🐳 (@page_milliebobbybrown) on

Theatrical allyship for clout

Co-opting the work of black people as your own

Brands posting solidarity statements without actively reflecting on and fixing internal structures:

Asking black people to educate you when resources for self-education are readily available

Ranting on the internet but not actively being anti-racist IRL

Share this article