Musa Faraha is an anthropology and geography sophomore and a Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
In the weeks that followed the Minnesota slaughter of George Floyd, my email began to flood. Generic message after generic message with the similar “We stand in solidarity with the Black community” tagline blew up my inbox. Reading them was as disappointing and disturbing as watching videos of anti-Black violence circulating the internet.
A majority of the corporations who put out statements seemed to forget to include the disease that has had the open authority to murder Black people since its inception: the police. By not openly calling out the police, companies are trying to save face with both the murderers and those killed.
It is not enough to say that you have a commitment towards curbing racial injustice or that you’re “standing with the black community.” What are you actually doing? Looking into the histories of some of these companies allows you to see just how empty these statements really are.
Take L’Oreal Paris for instance. In 2017, L’Oreal dropped Munroe Bergdorf, the company’s first transgender model to front one of their campaigns, for speaking out against racism. Fast forward to 2020 and George Floyd’s death ignited declarations that it is no longer okay to openly perpetuate or ignore racism.
L’Oreal Paris’ solidarity statement had the typical taglines of “stand[ing] in solidarity with the Black community” and “speaking out is worth it.” If speaking out against racism is “worth it,” why did they fire Bergdorf for doing the same thing three years ago? It’s very simple. They don’t care about racism. They care about their image and sales. It’s performative activism.
Performative activism is meaningless activism that is meant to not appear as enabling racism through silence. While real activism seeks to provoke progression and difficult conversations, performative activism seeks to obstruct and silence change. Real activism comes from a place of wanting to see change occur, while performative activism comes from one’s need to preserve their image. There is no better metaphor for white liberal guilt than performative activism.
It would be unfair to point out the performative activism in large corporations like L’Oreal when people individually — without the help of PR teams — do the same thing.
After the May killing of George Floyd, many people, from Cal Poly students to the stars of Hollywood, flocked to their social media platforms to voice their support of Black Lives Matter (BLM). That’s great, but what are these people doing in their day-to-day lives to ensure equality for everyone around them? It is not enough to go protesting when it is popular to do so or when it brings you a reprieve from the humdrum of months in quarantine.
Performative activism reached its peak on June 2 or “Blackout Tuesday.” On that day, social media users posted black squares with different variations of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to show support for the BLM movement. This missed its empathetic mark completely. Instead of creating a blackout of hate, it became a blackout in important knowledge such as upcoming protests and links to donate to bailout funds for protestors.
As a Black person, I’d rather see companies put their detached words into actions or at the very least convert them into donations. Both corporations and individuals need to confront past racial indiscretions before hastily putting out worthless statements or remain silent. Or corporations can just pull a “Sally-Loo’s.”
An example of a progressive change would be with Califia Farms, a plant-based dairy company. Califia Farms is named after the fictional Queen Califia from Montalvo’s Las Sergas de Esplandian. In that sixteenth-century novel that would also inspire California’s name, Queen Califia is described as being Black, dark-skinned and dark brown throughout the literary piece.
Califia Farms, having issued their own vacuous statement, can make a difference by not white-washing Queen Califia on the faces of their plant-based dairy products.
Looking at the history of our country, Black people hardly get any representation in many fields other than the cotton fields. The lives of Black people in the United States have not mattered since the first slave was brought to Virginia in 1619. It should not have taken a global quarantine and a recording of a Black man being choked to death to realize that.
Arguably, the limited times that Black lives have mattered in this country is when they’re winning on basketball courts and football stadiums or on the concert stage, and now, on film getting murdered by police.
The bustling country we see today was and continues to be built by people who are viewed as humans only when their final moments alive are being recorded and spread throughout social media.
Black lives do not matter when they are being disproportionately jailed and trafficked. Black lives do not matter when the color of their skin and protective hairstyles make them unemployable. Black lives do not matter when missing Black children are easily forgotten by both the media and police.
At the end of the day, blanketing social media and spamming our emails with carefully crafted statements does not show solidarity. It just shows how much you do not care.