Column: Fake ‘activism’ is frustrating, but can actually help causes

Luke Taylor

The term “performative activism” refers to the kind of activism where a group promotes a certain message to make itself look good but doesn’t actually take action to achieve the goals tied to that message.

This is most prevalent on social media, where brands and individuals alike share messages for everything from Black Lives Matter to pro-choice campaigns, but never consider putting in work or even donating.

As Transgender Day of Remembrance rolled around this year, President-Elect Joe Biden shared an image to his Instagram page noting the day and included a long caption about protecting trans and gender-nonconforming people. That sounds great until you remember that the Vice President-Elect, Kamala Harris, has a serious history of ignoring the needs of trans people in the prison system. She also has an extensive record of attacks against sex work, a career with a disproportionately high number of transgender workers.

On Eastern’s campus, the transgender flag was raised on the same flagpole which has displayed the Black Lives Matter flag and the Pride flag, but how exactly is the university making strides to uplift the LGBTQ+ community or people of color on campus? Eastern isn’t a serious offender, but there are a lot of issues on campus that seem to go ignored year after year.

Obviously, these moments of “activism” are very superficial, and I believe that anyone who participates in performative activism is absolutely worthy of criticism, but let’s think about how those messages are helping.

Seeing the transgender flag flying on campus made me emotional. My trans siblings are often ignored and swept under the rug, and when they do receive attention, it often comes with a wave of hate and ignorance. The flag’s presence on campus makes it clear that transgender people will be accepted at Eastern; it doesn’t mean that the school is perfect, but it shows the school is at least aware of that demographic on campus.

Biden’s talk about supporting transgender people doesn’t seem to be backed up by any policy change, but his promotion of Transgender Day of Remembrance will make a huge number of Americans aware that the day even exists. Hopefully, some of those people will research why the day exists and become more aware of the issues that trans people face every day.

Performative activism is deeply frustrating, and we shouldn’t praise people for putting on a mask of progressive beliefs to gain support.

However, the fact that those are the messages that get positive support in American society is a sign that positive change is getting closer every day.


Elizabeth Taylor is a sophomore journalism major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].