Performative Allyship Is Deadly (Here’s What to Do Instead)
On May 25, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd gasped, “I can’t breathe.” On March 13, Breonna Taylor was shot dead by police who stormed her home as she slept. On February 25, Ahmaud Arbery was killed in the middle of the day by two white men, a retired policeman and his son. They got in their car, tailed him, and shot him twice.
I could go on.
These tragedies, just the most recent examples in a long history of violence against black people, have led to an explosion of attention on social media. In the days after Arbery’s death, I scrolled through Instagram, reading post after post from white friends and influencers professing their outrage and disbelief. Urging us to #sayhisname. The posts were flooded with comments from more (mostly) white people, thanking them for their “bravery” and praising them for “speaking truth to power.” Three months after the shooting, Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were arrested and charged with murder in what has been heralded as a victory for the powers of social media, a place where normal citizens can “use their voice” to demand justice.
Still, as a black woman, instead of feeling inspired by this act of solidarity, I found myself feeling angry and afraid. Looking through my feed, I wanted to say to my white friends, “You’re here now, but where are you the other 364 days a year when anti-racism isn’t trending? When racism isn’t tucked safely behind the screen in your hand, but right there in front of your face?”
I am not overlooking the fact that public allyship can help spur positive change. Voices can be heard, and some small version of justice may even be served as a result. But we must also not be lulled into believing that this kind of allyship is enough to dismantle the conditions that made it possible for an innocent black man to be lynched in broad daylight. And we must not let the kind of performative allyship that begins and ends with hashtags take center stage in the quest for equality.