To our generation, the idea of getting justice sounds great. But the idea of fighting for it publicly while presenting oneself as a positive, selfless figure in a storm of injustice and pain? That sounds even better.
Activism has become a trend rather than an effective vehicle for change. A growing number of people hold signs, write blog posts, and attend protests not so much to challenge the actual issue, but rather to jump on the bandwagon of wokeness. It’s true that the publicization of issues through methods of modern activism such as social media can be extremely advantageous. But when it becomes more about the publicization rather than the problem itself is when there is an increasing lack of knowledge on the targeted issue, and people’s actions and authenticity become questionable.
Let me introduce you to some of the “activists” of our time, sometimes found on our own campus, whose so-called activism is, well, concerning.
The “Don’t worry I listen to Kendrick!” Black Lives Matter activist:
You might see them with a BLM sticker on their laptop, or smiling excessively when they see a black person accomplish literally any task. They often use their love of rap as a pass for making ignorant comments. They talk about how great Kendrick Lamar’s performances are or how intellectual President Obama was, but stay quiet when someone makes a joke about the black kid who is obviously an athlete. Because oh, that comment wasn’t meant to be offensive, it’s just a compliment! They will loudly proclaim their love for the community and appropriate, or, sorry, “appreciate” culture, but will remain quiet when stereotypes of marginalized black communities are perpetuated.
The pro-women’s rights yet absolutely uneducated about the identities of women in marginalized communities activist:
These activists can be seen attending every “free the nipple” gathering, sporting all sorts of feminist apparel, and overflowing their feeds with photos and quotes of powerful women. But they can also be found slut-shaming, discriminating against, and failing to recognize the unique complex sexualities of women. They may even ignore and demean women who may not have the privilege to be advocating for their own rights. They will turn their heads on those who do not fit their definition of what it means to be a woman. Because if you aren’t explicitly waving your sexuality on a flag or if you choose to follow a religion that is traditionally conservative, then girl, why are you here?
The anti-racism and pro-diversity, but “I’ll gladly still indulge in my privilege without calling it out” activist:
“Oh, I love diversity!” said almost everyone on our campus. These activists are friendly, and seem knowledgeable about unfair political practices, dialogue, and patterns. They will celebrate the color of your skin and your culture, but will hit the mute button when you question their privilege or share your discontent. They are lukewarm. Never too testing, yet never fully concerned.
The Deadly Activist:
An elaborate definition is not needed to identify this activist, because all of us at times are this activist. At some point or other, we’ve become so caught up in the excitement and rush of speaking out and displaying our concerns publicly that our participation and activism failed to consider, or even include, the people or communities affected. Those for whom we so proudly raised our voices and our signs, and created clever hashtags. This activism is truly deadly. Because when we are blindsided, we limit the formation of real dialogue, solutions, and change. Change that to us may be unnecessary, but to others is a matter of life.
If you identify with any of the characteristics attributed to or collectively shared by the activists described above, don’t fret. We all have and can. The intoxication and blindsightedness that comes with “being an activist” and “promoting social change” is easy to obtain, but it’s also easy to recover from. A good place to start is to stop thinking of activism as a trend. When we think of it as one, we normalize being passive. Retweeting the latest proclamation of solidarity—or attending a protest without caring to actually understand the issue or how you could help—might seem like enough, but it’s not.
We can identify as activists, but we can’t forget what it means to be one. Activism isn’t a momentary display of discontent. It is the development of consciousness for an issue and a constant pursuit for ways to challenge it’s presence at any time in our everyday lives, regardless of how insignificant our approach may seem. We will remain passive until we become conscious.
In no way do I seek to delegitimize the issues for which people become activists. But I do hope to provide healthy criticism on the ways that many of us, including myself, go about the process.
Activism is crucial. It is beautiful. It is representative of the human capacity to invoke change. We are the blood and passion of those before us and those to come, so let’s make sure that our generation’s activism is more than just adding #activist to the end of our bios—that it is says more, and does more. That our blood remains boiling, our passion stays undying, and the fight within us is unaltered by the over-romanticization of self in our culture. Because when our fight is pure, educated, and relentless is when we will see change.