Check Yourself — Am I Acting as a Performative Ally?

What is performative allyship? A quick Google search reads it is activism done to increase ones social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to the cause.

Lets look at an example — Last week social media users participated in #BlackOutTuesday, a global initiative to reflect on the effects of racism and center black voices. The movement stemmed from #TheShowMustBePaused, created by music executives Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas. Their original statement wrote, “This is not just a 24-hour initiative. We are and will be in this fight for the long haul. A plan of action will be announced. This is only phase one of a multi-phase movement.”

Concerns were made when users were posting their black squares with #BLM. This clogged up the Black Lives Matter algorithm — making information and protest updates inaccessible as the grid was literally blacked out.

Performative activism comes into play here because those who involved themselves in #BlackOutTuesday did only that — post on social media. AKA It’s trendy and it looks good to your followers. Everyone else is doing it.

This can apply to companies as well — The NFL making a solidarity statement with BLM after condemning Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee to peacefully protest police brutality is PERFORMATIVE.

Performative activism can also look like;

Band wagoning, white fragility, PR/brand/public profile management, virtue signaling, resentful feelings towards the movement, benefitting from the movement but making no real contribution to it, centering yourself (I’m looking at you, white men of Instagram who have been posting about your privilege. Spoiler alert — WE ALREADY KNOW THIS.)

*side note –I applaud you for reading this article, this is a small step in your antiracism work. I do expect you to do your part in your own unlearning process and GOOGLE any term you do not recognize here*

So what does authentic allyship look like?

1. You actively take initiative in unlearning what your white supremacist school taught you. This looks like following black accounts on Instagram, buying books from black authors, supporting black owned business, donating to black led organizations, attending protests. If you posted a black square on #BlackOutTuesday and did none of the above, you are putting on the performance of your life.

2. You sit in the discomfort. You will read your new antiracist books and you will reflect on all of the awkward scenarios you have been involved in. It’ll get cringe. You will hold yourself accountable to the cringe. Stop. Breathe. Observe. Do it differently this time.

3. You are committed to being ANTI-racist. This looks like being opinionated. And to be opinionated, you must educate yourself (I digress again to my earlier point: buy books from black authors.) This means you are not neutral in any debate on black lives. You vehemently defend human rights and defunding the police.

4. Empathy/Grief/Outrage. You are UPSET. You’re f*cking PISSED. You check in on your friends who are out on the frontlines, who aren’t posting as much, who have lost a loved one to white supremacy. You cater to your community.

5. Examining your own privilege & using it to help. Ask yourself, How have I benefitted from my white presenting skin tone? How can I use this privilege to uplift another?

6. You take risks. You confront your racist uncle. You have a difficult conversation with a friend about their privilege. You talk to your boss about discrimination in the workplace. You give up some of your power for another. You write an article!

7. You listen to black stories. You hear them with the intent of understanding (that means no talking). You listen in black held spaces. You support from afar if necessary. You give them space to feel, grieve, yell, scream, cry. You do not police their emotions.


1. How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

2. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde — a book of essays and stories over the course of Lorde’s career. She examines intersectional feminism, speaks on how to raise a black son while being a gay mother.

3. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister — if you want to read about the validity and righteousness of women’s anger.

4. Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

5. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson

6. So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

7. The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein — observes how the United States used red lining to segregate black communities and keep them in poverty.

8. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad and Robin DiAngelo

9. Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi — Kendi once again examines Americas’ racist ideology from its’ roots.

10. Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble — Noble describes how search engines such as google and facebook use key words in their algorithms to restate racist principles online.


Elise Kolmer is a writer, feminist, activist and BLM supporter located in Jacksonville, FL.

Feminist, Activist, Storyteller

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