Do you recall the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020? How everyone rallied to support this cause? Social media feeds were lit up with allyship about the injustice and white priviledge? On the surface, it seemed that we had crossed a bridge and then – hard stop. Many forms of allyship were recognized as something else – and here is why it’s important to define and move beyond performative allyship.
What is Performative Allyship?
First, let’s look at what real allyship is. An ally is someone from a non-marginalized group who uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group. They transfer the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it.
Performative allyship, on the other hand, is when someone from that same nonmarginalized group professes support and solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful or that actively harms that group. Performative allyship usually involves the “ally” receiving some kind of reward — on social media, it’s that virtual pat on the back for being a “good person” or “on the right side.”
Certainly, my reluctance to jump on the performative allyship bandwagon accompanied a whole bunch of cleverly disguised excuses. I tell that story here but what made a monumental difference for me is to understand how to shift it from merely performative to true allyship that makes a difference.
I have Courtney Ahn to thank for this. Her post shared questions to ask yourself before posting about racial inequality. Boom!
Is this self-serving? Is this to just to make me feel better, morally?
Is there a call to action? Is it one that Black activists are asking for? Protesting, donating, signing a petition, offering resources, etc.
Is this all I’m contributing today, a social media post? What more can I do and how can that evolve past a single contribution to an active process of allyship for tomorrow and beyond?
Am I addressing the roots of systemic racism? Or am I just being upset by the outcomes?
Do my actions align with my words? Do I create a space for POC in my life? Do I support POC communities and business beyond saying that I do?
Whose voice is it? Is it a Black activist? Should it be?
Who benefits from this post/action/message? Is it just me or is it POC? Did they ask me to do this?
How do I personally benefit from oppressive systems? Do I acknowledge this wholeheartedly? What am I doing to fight back towards the systems I benefit from?
The Road to True Allyship
Indeed, the road to allyship isn’t perfect. That fact is what has always held me back. On the other hand, there is a trendy, overused saying out there that actually fits well here – “progress over perfection.” We will mess up, and that’s okay. Acknowledge the mistakes, learn from them, keep putting in the work.
How can you #ChooseToChallenge and ultimately, move beyond performative allyship?