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Activism is not an Aesthetic

By Deanna Whitlow

It was around midnight on June 2nd when I opened up Instagram for the thousandth time only to see my timeline flooded with black squares posted by various celebrities and most of the suburban white kids I went to high school with. Just black squares. Even weirder-- the captions only read “#blacklivesmatter” and “#blackouttuesday”.

The white girl who told me that she “didn’t even think of me as black” posted a black square. The “centrist” white boy who thinks he’s entitled to say the n-word because he’s 0.5% African posted a black square. The influencer who posted a selfie the day before with the caption “only good vibes here!” posted a black square. The out of touch celebrity who had been silent for days posted one of these ominous black squares. Confused, I took to Twitter to figure out what the hell was going on.

Blackout Tuesday was started by the music industry as a way to disconnect from work and reconnect with the community. It was meant to be a day for people to stop promoting their art or brand to take time to educate people and amplify black voices. Rather it morphed into the perfect platform for performative activism.

We’ve all seen performative activism. From the “Girl Boss” type of feminism to the Instagram story threads: “Tag 5 black people that matter to you!”. Though well-intentioned, it’s a product of the pseudo-liberalism that permeates American culture. In current times, with things such as Blackout Tuesday, we’re seeing performative activism on a much larger, and much more dangerous scale. All of those blank black squares drowned the Black Lives Matter hashtag, consequently repressing all of the useful information that needed to be seen. Those who relied on the tag for updates on police presence at protests had to sift through mindless black squares just to find something that directly impacted their safety.

Practices and trends that are hijacked by performative activists morph into these easy fixes for the guilt of the oppressor. It’s a simple fix that rids them of an inconvenient sense of obligation. A rich white celebrity who refuses to open their overflowing wallet can post a simple black square and suddenly feel like they’ve amended their moral culpability, therefore, they can go back to posting selfies and promoting their work. It gives them leverage to turn their cheek towards any criticism of indifference and ultimately waters down the true message and intent to make it palatable to the majority.

No one likes to be uncomfortable-- that’s understandable-- but black lives are on the line. That is much more important than losing a few followers.

Hashtags and little black squares are nothing without genuine action behind them.  Neutrality is oppressive, Silence is violence, and performativity is useless.

This movement-- this revolution-- is not an aesthetic or your opportunity to feign progressiveness. It’s not a way to appear #woke to all of your followers. What’s going on stretches beyond you and me and what others think of the Black Lives Matter message.

You are never ever helpless in these situations. 

Activism is not only being on the front lines of protests or being arrested for the cause. There are so many ways to be an activist, so many ways to make sure that you are using your voice.

Here’s how you can help the Black Lives Matter Movement if you cannot attend a protest. Sign petitions and donate what you can. I promise-- your voice matters!

Reclaim The Block helps make sure that Minneapolis communities have what they need to be safe and to thrive. They invest in violence prevention, resources for youth, mental health services, and much more to solve problems with less police force. Donate here.

Black Visions Collective focuses on developing emerging black leadership to create the conditions for change. Donate here.

The Marshall Project is an online journalism publication that examines the criminal justice system to create a sense of urgency around its many injustices. Donate here.

Bail Funds help free protestors who have been wrongfully and unnecessarily arrested. Donate here.

Black-owned businesses need your support in these times! Check some out here.

Donate with no money here.

Petitions to Sign

Raise The Degree

Breonna Taylor

Defund MPD 

Text “ENOUGH” to 55156

Text “JUSTICE” to 668366

Check out Ways To Help for more.

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