The LCS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Club Explains Performative Activism

Lakefield College School’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) club is a student-led program that was launched in 2020. This club gathers on a weekly basis to discuss current issues pertaining to race, sex, gender identity, culture, and ability. Led by this year’s Seniors-in-Charge Sarah ’22, Clea ’22, and Rori ’22, during their meetings, students explore resources, engage in important conversations, and identify new ways to share information with the broader school community. We had the opportunity to sit down with Sarah ’22, Clea ’22, Rori ’22, and Grade 10 member, Maureen ’24 to learn more about performative activism and how it impacts the progress of important social movements. 

What is performative activism and why is it harmful?

“Performative activism comes in many different forms. It usually entails actions that are done for an individual to boost their own social capital, rather than actually supporting a cause. Especially with our increasing use of social media, performative actions only continue to grow. Whether it is posting a black screen for the Black Lives Matter movement or re-sharing an Instagram thread on your story that you don’t really know much about and then stopping at that (like everyone else) without actually knowing much about the issue itself.”

“At the same time, performative activism is deeply driven by today’s society of cancel culture. Cancel culture is described as the modern-day form of ostracism. Because people are afraid to be ‘cancelled,’ they let this fear dictate their actions by conforming to the societal norms in an attempt to not be called out for a lack of knowledge and awareness or action.” 

“There are so many harmful impacts of performative activism. Particularly, since actions have become centralized around the approval of others and less so about the actual cause, the importance of the problem is minimized. Not only is the problem minimized but so are the actions taken to mitigate it. After posting, liking or retweeting, that’s where the action stops as you’ve already proven yourself to the public eye. This is harmful because so much more needs to be done.”

“Performative activism takes the attention away from the actual cause. It also discourages others from actually doing anything to make a change and encourages people to only do the bare minimum, for example posting something that everyone else is posting.” 

What is genuine activism?

“Genuine activism is going beyond doing the bare minimum. Educating yourself and others about topics through guest speakers and having charity events to raise money for a cause. Genuine activists have open conversations and continue to educate people about topics.” 

Why are you choosing activism rooted in action over activism rooted in information sharing?

“In the LCS community, I really hope that we can all make strong efforts to avoid being performative activists. I hope there can be an environment where our school is a safe place so that nobody feels the need to drive their actions just because they think they’ll be criticized if they don’t. A place where we are all understanding of each other’s gaps in knowledge and respectfully and kindly informing one another—a community where we put action behind our words and we can have uncomfortable conversations with one another. We are already on our way to a community that does not back down and stands up for what we believe in.”