Opinion | Black people are not only for your entertainment

By Ashanti McLaurin, Staff Columnist

One day I watched a nine minute and 29 second video of a Black man lying down on the street with a police officer on top of him, the officer pressing his knee into the man’s neck for allegedly trying to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Then I posted about the injustice on my social media.

My friends at the time, former teammates and people I haven’t spoken to since middle school, spammed my Snapchat the day after, most commonly with the message “Are you okay?” That was the last time someone messaged me about my well-being as a Black person.

After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Black Lives Matter movement reached an all-time high of exposure and social activism during the summer of 2020. Yet, a year and a half later, black squares with “I don’t understand you, but I stand with you” and “#blackouttuesday” captions aren’t flooding my Instagram timeline anymore. I’m reminded that this surge of support toward the Black community is, yet again, just another instance of performative activism.

How can you love, mimic and surround yourself with Black culture and people and dismiss that our lives do matter too? How can you profit off of us unprovoked, but ignore Black struggles and issues?

Black people’s influence on pop culture is appreciated, but not the lives of the influencers. Non-Black people pick and choose the “good” parts of Black culture — use AAVE, listen to rap music and R&B and recreate popular memes. Black culture is also abused by people condoning fetishization, cultural appropriation and blackfishing, but people are silent when a Black person is a victim of police brutality. When these moments are presented, I’ve seen people only show they care for a few days, before going back to their normal lives like nothing ever happened.

I’m not saying you have to be Black to understand our hardships. Even if you never experience the issues Black people face directly, you should still educate yourself. Involve yourself genuinely with how to help on issues like systemic racism and police brutality — not because people will view you as a racist if you don’t.

Slacktivism, also known as performative activism, is when someone takes actions to endorse and promote political or social causes and movements, but involving only minimal commitment, effort or risk. Performative activists only tend to pick and shed light on what social, humanitarian or racial issues they want others to know about, but being an ally is the opposite. An ally is someone that aligns with and supports a cause with another individual or group of people. 

If you identify as an ally, just remember that you can’t be pro-Black Lives Matter, but then go hang around people who do or say racist and anti-Black stereotypes. That goes against everything you claim you stand for.

To avoid putting yourself in that situation, how do you know if you’re an ally or a performer?

Medical News Today explains how allies can realize their privilege, educate themselves on the microaggressions and racism Black people face from all directions and speak up on the causes of why Black people are treated very differently than other races. Performative activists are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to spreading awareness. The F-Word Magazine at the University of Pennsylvania states that “if your activism is largely about signaling certain opinions or ideas in order to gain acceptance from others, you’re probably perpetuating performative activism.”

Don’t say you support the culture, but then not show up for the cause. Don’t just send a quick text to your Black friends when an act of police brutality happens somewhere in the country. Actually check up on them — constantly — because these instances of violence against Black people aren’t just one-and-done things that go away. The pain and violence is traumatizing and saddening everytime.

Am I okay? I don’t think I’ll ever truly be. Since the death of Trayvon Martin, I knew at the young age of 12 that I would be treated differently for my skin tone and race until the day I die, but I don’t regret being Black. I love being Black and being a part of Black culture, and you can too — just don’t be performative about it.

Ashanti McLaurin primarily writes about Black culture, human injustices and gives life advice. Write to her at [email protected].