Performative Activism: Is it Enough?
An Open Letter about Performative Activism
There’s something that happens in every industry, and the craft beer community is no different.
Every once in a while, I come across a post from an individual or brewery that is seemingly good-intentioned with social justice written all over it. It has all the right words to speak power to the causes they’re advocating for. But, is it enough?
In the age of social media, I believe the sentiment holds true: Who are you when no one is looking? Or, in this case, who are you aside from the curated narrative you post on the Internet?
When you post about a cause, do you genuinely care about it? Will you care about it two weeks from now? A month? Two years? Did you only start caring about it when it became popular? Looking inward, what is your motivation for engaging with this cause?
Maybe, you’re a genuine ally. This letter is obviously not written for you.
But, maybe, you’re someone who needs to read this. Maybe you need to get a little mad and defensive toward me. Maybe, this will eventually help.
Let’s talk about performative activism, the act of “activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause” (Wikipedia, 2020). It’s an increasingly-common phenomenon following spikes in social justice movements.
(A good article on the matter from Aljazeera: The Problem of Performative Activism).
In 2020, we witnessed the senseless murder of George Floyd, which led to potentially the largest movement that the world has ever seen. A lot of good progress and action happened (and is happening) from the movement, even within the craft beer community.
We saw the biggest inter-brewery collaboration in beer’s history with the worldwide Black is Beautiful beer. To date, there are 1,192 breweries that have chosen to participate in this amazing project. Weathered Souls Brewing and Marcus Baskerville created a tidal wave of action throughout the world. It was a fucking beautiful thing.
(Read our Baskerville’s Black is Beautiful Resonates ‘Round the World article).
There were heartfelt posts circulating about the need for justice and police reform. Photos surfaced of fierce, passionate messages of protest. The masses were flocking to support the Black is Beautiful beer throughout the country. For a good moment, it felt like everyone was ready to fight.
But, social justice movements experience ebbs-and-flows like many other things in life. There’s a tendency to see the gradual drop-off of involvement once the virality of the cause fades.
In many cases, the movement eventually no longer serves a purpose for the person. So, they move onto the next thing that will gain them approval and acclaim. This, perhaps, is not even an intentional behavior. In an aggressively viral, digital world, people need to stay in-tune with every episode of social life to remain relevant. Arguably, it’s become almost cultural to jump from one trend to the next. But, does it make it right?
These causes are not a fad. They’re not seltzers in the summer or avocado toast in the spring. There are real fucking people behind these movements. There’s real pain, injustice, and wrongdoing.
It’s not enough to brew one damn beer for a cause and call yourself an ally while continuing your own hegemonic practices that maintain the status quo of dispossessing marginalized populations within the craft beer community.
It’s not enough to rave about a specific month that is set out for a minority community, yet neglect to lift them up during the other 11 months of the year. You can’t just “opt-in” for Pride Month.
It’s not enough to post a black square for one Tuesday to show your solidarity, then return to supporting breweries who have known cases of racism, sexism, and bigotry – even if they do have really good beer.
Activism is about being a part of the change – not just appearing to do so. It’s not only advocating for the movement when it’s convenient. It’s hard, long-term work that often feels thankless and never-ending.
Fight right, or don’t come at all.
I’ve heard excuses like, “It will upset some of our customers,” or “We try to stay neutral,” and “It won’t go with the aesthetic of my feed”. Eventually, many of these people opted into participating because they didn’t want to “look racist”. Well, I hate to break it to them – this is performative activism.
There’s a difference between being a genuine ally and a performative activist. Hopefully, if you’re still reading, you want to take part in these social justice causes in an authentic and positive way.
So, ask yourself some tough questions:
- What is my motivation for engaging with this cause?
- Why am I choosing to participate now?
- Will I continue to support this cause, even after the hype has died down?
- How will I enact change in the future?
- Who can I reach out to collaborate on this shared vision?
- What can I do to promote change within my own life?
- Am I part of the problem or solution?
In no way is this post meant to discourage people from using their voice for change. I’m no expert. All I know is that there’s no one “right” way to be a genuine activist, but there’s many wrong ways. Performative activism is one of them.
Let’s be better.
The Drunk Brown-Eyed Girl
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”