Understanding the Trend of Performance Activism
Many students take to social media to advocate against current policies, but these trends rarely translate into action.
October 28, 2019
I fall into the group of people that looks to Twitter for national and global updates on society, politics, the environment and, well, practically anything else. On my feed, I tend to see the latest condemnation toward the Trump administration and contemporary conservative values, particularly in regard to LGBTQ rights and climate change. These issues often catch fire and turn into trends, like #pride, that garner support for marginalized communities.
The problem occurs when you retweet these supportive posts and then roll up to the Upstein Chick-fil-A to get your chicken sandwich with fries. Even worse, and unfortunately not uncommon, is doing so in Air Force Ones while drinking Peet’s Coffee — both companies that contribute to the Trump administration — content knowing you’re about to satisfy your cravings for that salty, crispy chicken sandwich while believing that you oppose Trump.
The matter of saying versus doing is complicated by the element of convenience and financial security. Chick-fil-A and Peet’s are both located on campus, which allows students to use their meal plans. Moreover, brands like Nike offer a 10% discount to university students, which offers an enticing deal for those looking to invest in structurally sound sneakers. From this perspective, younger students shouldn’t be criticized heavily or labeled hypocritical when shopping at these brands to simply save money and time. These elements of convenience and financial practicality indicate that the problem of performance activism stems from larger corporations and institutions that influence consumer decisions. In this instance, NYU is the institution placing these brands throughout their campus.
But whether we realize it or not, our consumption choices do contribute to policies that harm marginalized communities. NYU celebrates LGBTQ pride and says it supports environmental sustainability, yet Nike still sponsors many of the school’s athletic uniforms. This forces us to ask who we should hold accountable for performative activism. Students can only go so far with their words on Twitter. Their capacity to influence is incomparable to that of billionaires like Stephen Ross, the owner of Equinox, who funded a dinner in support of Trump’s reelection, while proclaiming to have been an “outspoken member of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education, and environmental stability.”
Ross’ actions versus his statements are an example of how performative activism works. We may not all be billionaires, but we can understand making a decision that benefits ourselves over others. When confronted with that selfishness, we can get defensive and cling to the good deeds we’ve done, rather than face our potential complicity in the oppression of others. This is essentially what we do when we solely tweet our support on social media. Retweeting doesn’t solve the problem. Our words are only as meaningful as the actions we place behind them.
In addition to posting your frustrations toward the Trump administration or any other entity, boycott companies that support them. These companies use their vast financial resources to become more powerful and influential in the political sector. Websites like Goods Unite Us show the ethical influence of major brands and can help if you’re looking to match a tweet with action. Through this, we can understand how to harness social media’s vast influence and use it to create movements that promote change rather than short-lived trends.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
This article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 28, 2019 print issue. Email Gabby Lozano at [email protected]