The Difference Between Performative and Genuine Activism


Photo Courtesy of KHTS Hometown Station

Santa Clarita activists gather to protest for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mia Siddons Mata, The Scroll, Staff Writer

Activism has taken on a new form amidst the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of police, sparking interest in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and outrage over police brutality. Many young teens, students and activists have turned to social media to make their voices heard and organize demonstrations for change. With online activism comes the distinction between genuine and performative activism and the question of how to be a genuine activist.

Performance activism is defined as “activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause,” according to Wikipedia. Quynn Lubs, local SCV activist and West Ranch alum, expresses that she defines performative activism as “being an activist for your own personal gain.” 

Many students have seen, shared, and posted a number of petitions regarding the BLM movement and other activist causes. Instagram accounts such as @SCVforChange promote activism in the Santa Clarita Valley. Various posts and petitions have led to the organization and planning of protests locally in Santa Clarita as well. 

A protest on Valencia Boulevard on June 4 occurred as a result of online organization. “I’m just out here for justice, not just for George Floyd. But for every human being because this has been going on for years,” commented a protester to The SCV Signal. These peaceful protests that come out of online activism and organization are an example of genuine activism, a group of people fighting for what they believe is right and not for their own selfish reasons, such as wanting to receive praise for being a part of movements such as BLM. 

With the onslaught of online post sharing regarding issues of race, diversity and justice, some question whether or not online “activists” are genuinely trying to make a difference or if they are simply participating for their own personal capital. Sebastian Cazares, student activist at College of the Canyons and Saugus High School alum, believes that more people should  “help build efforts instead of tweeting about it because we need change and many  aren’t doing anything about it.” 

While many students have taken to social media as genuine activists, others online have taken part of performative activism trends. “Black Out Tuesday,” initially stemmed from the original initiative of #TheShowMustBePaused, created by music executives Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas, Senior Director of Marketing at Atlantic Records, is an example of this. Participants took part by posting a black square followed by a caption regarding the BLM movement. More than 14.6 million posts were made with the hashtag, according to Google Trends. 

The online challenge immediately received backlash, as the black posts filled Instagram’s algorithm and flooded informational posts regarding BLM. Additionally, the posting of black squares was criticized for being unhelpful and uncontributative to the cause. Although some had good intentions with the post, it was a mass participation in performative and ingenuine activism.

Their participation was simply to make themselves seem like a decent human being, but due to the retaliation of the trend, they did not quite receive the praise they had hoped for. The post is often very misleading because in reality, they have completely different opinions and beliefs. In order to get positive feedback, several posted a black square claiming it was in support of BLM. 

VALLEY Magazine puts “Blackout Tuesday” into perspective: “As a white person, posting a black square with just an emoji or the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, and then immediately posting vacation pics with your friends or what you had for lunch is not activism; instead, it reinforces your privilege to stay silent.” 

Performative activism can largely be seen being done among celebrities or internet influencers. The “Challenge Accepted” campaign on social media that involved women posting flattering black and white photos of themselves with the hashtag #WomenSupportingWomen is an example of performance activism, as the origins of the campaign became lost and were often unknown to participants. 

A representative from Instagram commented that the round of black and white pictures was initially posted by Brazilian journalist Ana Paula Padrão and women in Turkey to bring awareness to the femicide in Turkey. There was, however, no mention of the crisis in Turkey in many of these celebrities’ posts, and instead worked as a form of chain mail. 

Challenges such as these allow users to feel as if they are taking a stand and participating in activism when their posts do little to nothing for the actual issue at hand. 

Due to the popularity and fast pace of online media and challenges, it is easy to see matters of activism as a trend, but there are countless ways for one to become involved in genuine activism online. Before getting into activism, it’s highly crucial that one educates themselves on the topic. Quynn Lubs said, “The biggest part of being a genuine activist is knowing that you constantly have to be educating yourself because there’s always more things to learn and grow from.” This can be done by reading articles about the topic, understanding multiple perspectives and speaking to fellow activists. The following key step would be to participate in events such as peaceful protests, signing petitions, and if possible, donating to the cause. 

If the goal is to become a genuine activist, try not to participate in social media trends such as “Blackout Tuesday” because as Cazares puts it , one must “realize that this is a long hard-fought movement and it’s not a trend.” If one wants to genuinely make a change, true and good intentions are paramount. Lubs suggests that “If you want to get involved, you should call into city council meetings.” She explains that due to COVID, it’s an easy way to get involved without risking anything. Becoming an activist is not as difficult as it seems and it can be beneficial to both yourself and those around you. 




The opinions in The Scroll’s editorials are strictly the views of the writers of the staff or outside submissions. The views do not represent or reflect the opinions or policies of Saugus High School or the William S. Hart School District. The Scroll welcomes all reactions and outside submissions to share alternative views.