Social justice has become a mainstream focus in all of our daily lives. The rise of the internet has given many marginalised communities, which may not have been heard over the political noise of the mainstream media 20+ years ago, a voice. This has provided us with many great opportunities and connections. But issues that catch wind often turn into trends. Social justice has been commodified.
Take pride month, for example, a month founded to celebrate the ongoing work for acceptance and equality of the LGBTQIA+ community has now transformed into a branded holiday. Commercialisation is where the disconnect lays: brands promoting gay pride are not consistent in supporting the people they are profiting off. This has happened with Black Lives Matter, International Women’s Day and will continue to percolate unless we take a stand and call out this performative activism.
Performative activism is defined as “when a person or group joins on a political bandwagon in order to keep up appearances”. The matter of saying versus doing is made complicated for most of us by the element of financial security. Students can only go so far with their words on Twitter – our capacity to influence is limited and incomparable to that of billion-dollar corporations. However, it’s important to keep standing up for social justice issues and encouraging people to do the same. Visibility is how we reach acceptance.
Using your platform – no matter how small – to advocate is an easy and fast way to use your privilege in a positive way. 21st-century activism is sharing petitions, charities and raising issues through social media. While posting an Instagram story in support of transgender lives is good, it’s also important to ensure that your actions in real life match up. In addition to online allyship, you should be using your voice to condemn acts of prejudice if you hear them. Challenging someone using incorrect pronouns is a small example of how we ensure our generation is actively enforcing positive change. I’m sure to many people reading this, difficult conversations are the norm, but this your reminder to consider that your words are only as powerful as the actions you place behind them.
We’ve all seen the video of the white woman posing in front of a broken window at a Black Lives Matter march in June, and it set the internet afire and she was subsequently ‘cancelled’. Although “cancel culture” comes with its own challenges, using it to hold people accountable for stunts of performative activism like this is surely acceptable. It’s important for all of us to keep questioning: Am I doing enough to support these causes in real life as well as online?
Before the dawn of social media, governments were the gatekeepers of information. Platforms like Twitter are helping tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges through education. It’s a tool that provides space for people to participate in influencing decisions historically made by governments. The world needs our generation to act for human and environmental rights to remind politicians that we’re here and we won’t be silenced.
Having liberal views and not acting on them is no longer good enough when faced with being called out for not posting enough on social justice issues, it’s easy to cling on to all the good deeds done rather than facing complicity in the oppression of others. While retweeting doesn’t solve the problem, it does raise awareness.
In addition to reposting frustrations on politics, do your research and boycott companies that support right-wing ideologies. Social media has given our generation a chance to directly influence the people in power and rally them to make radical and real change. Not seizing this opportunity and using it in every way you can risk us being another generation lost to empty symbols and promises.
Our voices are stronger and louder together. Your voice matters, use it.
Written by: Vanessa Valentine // Photo credit: Teemu Paananen