Are Your Actions Performative?
3 disapproving : made or done for show (as to bolster one's own image or make a positive impression on others). This is the third definition listed for the word 3 disapproving : made or done for show (as to bolster one's own image or make a positive impression on others). This is the third definition listed for the word performative on https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary
The definition above is something we talk about a lot when it comes to social justice, racism and diversity at large. In the age of cancel cuture coupled with societal unrest on so many levels; are we digging ourselves deeper into the hole by applying a blanket label to action without lifting the vail to uncover motives?
Perhaps you've used a hashtag like #BLM or #stopasianhate or #LGBTQ or #Metoo. Maybe you've changed your profile picture to a black, orange or white square. What if you use pronouns in your email signature and social media platform profiles, the list goes on. Does anyone of these actions mean you are being performative? The answer is....maybe.
For me I think it's much deeper than one size fits all. As someone who isn't a fan of labels I tend to think calling a persons behavior performative by simply looking at an individual action is wildly misguided and could, perhaps create more issues in the long run. Although, I can still understand why these small things can urk people. Here is a brief glimpse into my thought process from both sides.
Yes, It's Performative; don't do it!
The argument for actions such as those listed above being performative is more than valid. There are people who most certainly are doing these things for show. They are doing it because they saw others doing it and don't want to be either left out or called out for 'not caring'. The point of movements in social justice is to bring much needed attention to these issues and be a catalyst to real, lasting change. Having a bunch of people jump on a 'trend' simply to fit in with the crowd isn't helpful to the overall cause. In fact an oversaturation of meaningless performative actions could actually hurt the cause because people might excuse themselves from doing any real work thinking there is already enough help. I can completely understand why these actions are triggering to some.
No, it’s not Performative; carry on.
Well, this side isn't so easy to argue simply because as previously acknowledge some people very much do things for show. And really, how you would know without either knowing the individual personally or inquiring? What I personally land on here is the adage 'seek first to understand'. So many things in this world could become nonissues if we simply started with curiosity. If you find someone who is definitely being performative, call them out. Let them know it's not ok. At the same time it's important for us as individuals to remember that the actions of others are rarely personal so getting bend up about it likely won't help. I firmly believe that applying a negative label to everyone including those with genuine intentions could backfire and hurt the cause.
Summing it up.
Like most everything we talk about here and on the podcast, there isn't a simple answer. No soft comfy blanket to cover up under to settle all scores. People are dynamic as are nearly all situations we find ourselves in. So, start with you and work out from there. Start with the why behind your actions, focus on the follow through and live by example. Maybe, just maybe if enough of us start by making sure our own motives are pure, intentional and informed we can make some progress.