Why Performative Allyship Feels So Hurtful

As I swiped through my Instagram story these past few days, it’s all posts in support of protests for George Floyd. This is how it should be– no one should be silent about his murder. There is video evidence of a black man being killed by a police officer, evidence that is angering and upsetting. 

I’m grateful that I don’t have mutuals who are firing back by defending the police or saying “All Lives Matter.” The flood of Instagram story posts means that my non-black peers are listening, spreading awareness, declaring themselves as allies…right?

For me, it becomes more complicated because I know these people outside of their Instagram story activism. When I think of everyone who’s posted in support of Black Lives Matter but has never actively defended black students at my school in times of racial incidents, or genuinely engaged in conversations surrounding marginalized communities, it’s hard to see their posts as sincere.

There shouldn’t have to be a murder for people to care about what’s happening to black people in America. There shouldn’t need to be a video for George Floyd’s story to feel real. It hurts to realize that many of the people posting about solidarity would never try to stand for me, or other black people, in real life.

The situations we see and share across social media are not isolated or rare. While some people can watch the video of George Floyd’s death, recognize that what happened is terrible, and continue with their day, I believe that the experience is different for black people. We’ve grown up hearing about police brutality, this scenario is familiar. I can’t stop caring about police brutality once people start talking about “the next thing.” It’s just my life. 

As a black person, I shouldn’t feel the need to post for the sake of other people. Too often is the pressure of educating non-black people about black issues placed on black people. I feel a pressure to make my blog entirely about why things are wrong or racist, even when I initially created it for black women. It’s not to say I’m not grateful for the support of my non-black readers, but I want to stop filtering my voice so that it’s palatable for everyone.

Performative allyship is harmful because it’s only done for the social satisfaction of being seen as “woke.” Maintaining activist aesthetics seems to override actual action. There are so many times when different social movements become trends that are forgotten in a matter of weeks, or even in days. 

I’m not claiming that posting right now is wrong. I just wish people kept this same energy online and in real life. This goes even more so for celebrities and companies that profit off of black culture but never speak out about black issues. How can you build your career off a group of people you barely care about? Being an actual ally does not consist of Instagram story reposting #blacklivesmatter when your real-life voice has never been used to uplift black people. 

I hope that George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor‘s stories never stop being talked about. I need people to remember their activism now and carry it with them every day, instead of bringing it out just to follow the crowd. One Instagram post backed with no actions or words does not make a true ally.

credits: Image sourced from @nytimes instagram, captioned as “Protesters in Foley Square in Manhattan.” taken by @kirstenluce