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Lights, camera, advocate |

Young Star

Lights, camera, advocate

Oleen Florendo - The Philippine Star
Lights, camera, advocate
Activism is more than just about posting black squares and template statements.

Picture this: a local influencer showed support to the Black Lives Matter movement by posting a black square seemingly out of place in his well-curated feed, and tucked in the comments section were hashtags hastily added to call for mass testing and the scrapping of the Anti-Terror Bill. On the other side of the world, outrage manifested itself through the same black tiles donning the #BlackOutTuesday in its captions; another where it was placed inside a white border to fit the ’gram of a famous outspoken activist and without anything to add to fuel the conversation.

These may seem harmless and well-intentioned. But what do these virtue signals really do, except take up space meant for minorities and detract from the real message of the movement?

In the same fashion, brands started churning out statements of support as if following a template of sort. But inside the confines of their workplaces, you’ll soon learn it was just another bid to appeal to its consumers. You could argue that there’s a thin line between these two, but true intention spills and will speak for itself, and eventually crack under the weight of false inclusivity.

On May 31, food publication Bon Appétit (BA) posted on Instagram to announce their goal of highlighting black-owned food businesses in solidarity with the condemnation of the killing of George Floyd. All seems well and profound until we learn it was all hypocrisy: BA staffers and writers revealed unequal pay and racially discriminatory practices to people of color in their workplace. L’Oréal Paris was also under fire for their statement after it was exposed that model Munroe Bergdorf was dropped in a campaign after speaking up about white supremacy and racism. The fashion brand Celine was criticized for its lack of representation of the black community despite claiming in a post that it’s against any form of discrimination.

What makes this even more enraging is that these are just a few of the countless brands and companies that claim to champion inclusivity, only to use it as a tool for pseudo-diversity. What could have been backed by inclusive practices, an examination of their work culture, and dialogues that lead to policy changes were reduced to empty messages of support.

Performative activism has long been around, used by brands and people to broadcast that they refuse to stay silent. In other words, self-serving attempts to forward a movement and issue but for the interest of gaining social capital. Participation matters, but doing it solely for performance cripples movements. It can incite complacency, and no real action is initiated. These hollow cries of resistance without consistent actions to back them up fail to amplify the voices of the minorities.

Social media continues to be at the forefront of forward movements. We lean to it for updates on societal and political issues, and we have since seen how it has reshaped the landscape of street activism to a more accessible one. But it also created an avenue where the line between true and performative activism has become blurred for far too many.

We’ve come to learn that the last place we can look for support is from public figures, and once we start seeking their positions on issues in the midst of their glossy feeds and large following, some are too quick to revoke the term “influencer” once it becomes an inconvenience for them. It becomes even more troubling when they’re able to profit from minorities but refuse to learn about their struggles on a more complex level and speak up for them, or worse, do it solely because they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.

Celebrities typically cite not being “well-versed” in the issues as a reason for not taking a stance. But no one’s born progressive, so while we’re all behind our screens with enough resources, educating ourselves should be on our front agenda. Even if the conversations turn excruciatingly uncomfortable. We are not in a post from the OutOfTheLoop Subreddit to constantly feed information you can Google for yourself. Educating yourself is your responsibility.

Dissenting has never been convenient and these issues and movements are no strangers to us. We’re talking about police brutality that has killed thousands, imprisoned innocent people, and followed centuries of microaggressions, racism and discriminatory practices. So much larger than our personal lives, and it can be daunting and overwhelming, but let’s not use it as an excuse to not learn beyond what we know, and recognize that our sexual and racial identities and socio-economic privilege have contributed to their oppression.

And for these movements to continue moving forward, it requires consistent action. Even when it’s no longer the talk of our social feeds. As a nation that suffers from selective memory, engage we must! And engage we will! Not just weeks and months from now, but until one oppressive structure after another has been dismantled.

Resistance is not a cultural trend to ride on. Not an Instagram story for us to post for the purpose of letting our circles know we care. Movements and its accompanying terms aren’t buzzwords for us to throw around to gain personal digital traction. This is not to say reposting and retweeting doesn’t help — awareness is crucial — but distinguishing true alliances from performative ones lies in intentions and actions. So, let this be a reminder to understand the insidious historical roots of a movement and the lived experiences of minority groups before we claim ourselves to be an ally.

And from there, we have to reach out to our individual networks, raise a discourse, and encourage them to sign petitions and demand accountability from those in power. Let’s not limit our activism in social networks — donate to high-impact groups, and stop supporting brands that are complicit to the oppression. Lastly, let’s not fail to regularly ask ourselves: do our actions open up space for representation and conversation?

June marks Pride Month, another pursuit of equal civil rights, this time for the LGBTQ+ minority. And I’m reminded of a statement by the Trans Collective, a group who protested tokenism in an art gallery: “It is disingenuous to include trans people in a public gallery when you have made no effort to include them in the private.” This outcry encompasses performative activism made on a broader and wider scale of injustices every day. Lasting systemic changes are a long way from here, but it’s important that we do not stop rallying for it and understand that not every conversation is about us.

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