#BlackOutTuesday And Performative Activism

Last Tuesday, people began publishing solid black images in social media platforms with the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday. On Instagram, it currently accounts for 28.9 million posts, while the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter accounts for 21.1 million posts. This difference generated controversy as this was probably the biggest mass event of social media performative activism.

To understand what performative activism means, first it is important to acknowledge that social media is intrinsically performative. In social media, users decide what to say and what to share. Users can decide which version of themselves to show. Hence, in social media we are always performing, pretending to be a better version of ourselves.

Further, since “being woke” or being aware of systematic inequalities became a source of social capital, social media users began to perform “wokeness” in order to show a better version of themselves. Hence, we could say that a person is performing activism when they seek to gain social capital more than they seek to change the status quo.

Originally, the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday was meant to communicate that the time one usually takes to be on social media, would be used to inform oneself about systematic racism. Yet, with 28.9 million uses of the hashtag compared to the 17 million people who signed the petition to bring justice for George Floyd, it is hard to believe that all those people really used that time to inform themselves about racism.

Denouncing racism is a trend for many white people. Almost 30 million people posted the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday a week ago, and now it seems as if everyone has forgotten that racism is still an ongoing issue.

If we really want to bring about effective change as those 28.9 million claimed to be interested in, then activism ought to be continuous. It is not enough to share a hashtag or to post an image of yourself in a protest. Performative activism cannot become a replacement for concrete action. If we decide to share something in social media to create awareness, then our activism cannot end there.

This does not mean that we ought to dedicate our lives to activism or that we necessarily need to go out to the streets and protests. There are many ways in which we, as white people, can bring about effective change and be constantly engaged in concrete action. I suggest some of the ways in which we can continue achieving change so that our use of #BlackOutTuesday is not merely performative.

1. Inform Yourself

In the United States and the world the history of racial minorities is erased and usually ignored in school curriculums. If we want tangible change, then we ought to inform ourselves about the history of racial minorities and about their life experiences in the present. Only then can we begin to understand the extent of racial inequality. If you seek to inform yourself and do not know where to begin, I suggest to click in any of the following hyperlinks to find relevant documentaries and books. I personally suggest watching Netflix’s Trial By Media episode on the murder of Amadou Diallo.

2. Listen

If you are white, then you do not know what it is like to experience systematic racism. Thus, do not tell racial minorities how they should think, act, protest or feel. Be open-minded and listen to what they have to say. It is not easy to listen someone telling you that you are also a perpetrator of racism. You might feel offended if you are not explicitly racist, but remember that we all have racist prejudices that operate unconsciously. There is no need to feel offended when they call you out. Try to see how you can correct those prejudices.

3. Reflect

This is complementary to listening. Reflect on your own behaviour and prejudices. Think about the ways you perpetrate racism and try to correct them. Also, try to reflect every time that you post something in social media. Are you posting it because you are really concerned, or is the post purely performative? If it is performative, then rather than not posting it, post it but do not leave it there. Continue to be actively engaged.

4. Use Your Platform and Voice

Many white people understood wrongly what racial minorities mean when they tell us not to shut down their voices. This does not mean that we can renounce to our privilege or to our voice, or that we should not talk about racism. It means that we should use our privilege and voice to bring about systematic racism into mainstream debates. But, specially, to amplify their voices and provide spaces for them in our platforms.

5. Call Out / Educate

If you hear a friend or relative say something racist do not stay silent. Try to open up a discussion and explain them why their behaviour or whatever they said is racist. Avoid just telling them they are racists. They will deny it, and that will not help change their behaviour and prejudices. You can also encourage them to read a book or watch a documentary that could help them question their racist prejudices. If you are a parent, educate your children about racism. It is never too early to do so.

6. Engage in Internet Platforms

Just because social media is intrinsically performative does not mean that it cannot be a successful mean to concrete action. There are lots of accounts, forums and informative pages and websites that are constantly providing information about racism as well as discussing solutions. This is a great way of keeping oneself continuously and actively informed about systematic racism.

7. Protest

If you do decide to protest, then you should take some things into consideration. First, follow the instructions of those who organised the protests. They are the ones who have something to say and those are the voices that you need to amplify. Do not speak over them; support them. Secondly, do not incite violence. If you do, they will be blamed, not you. That will bring up attention to the violence rather than their voices. Finally, consider using your body to protect racial minorities from police brutality. Police are far less likely to violent you.

Those are just some of the ways in which you can complement your #BlackOutTuesday post so that it is not purely performative. But, those are not the only things you can do to bring about tangible change. If you want and can, it is always better to dedicate part of your time to concrete activism.

Chiefly, remember that racial minorities experience racism daily. If we want to bring about real change, then we need to fight it daily. It is not enough to make a performative post every time things get worse. Last but not least, remember that this is not solely an American problem. Systematic racism is a global phenomenon.

Joaquin Zurita