What Is…Performative Allyship?

In the wake of the wrongful killing of George Floyd by a police officer a few months ago, I’ve increasingly seen the following term online: performative allyship. Given the increased use of that term, I thought I would do a “what is” post on this term, even though it wasn’t in my original plans. It’s another term that may seem like social justice jargon to some but is important to understand.

Performative allyship is, generally speaking, an action or set of actions that do more to show how virtuous someone is than help the cause they say they support. Performative allyship is not a term used as a compliment, but as a criticism of someone’s actions.

But how can you tell that you, or someone else, is engaging in an action of performative allyship?

Based on the reading I have done, it seems like different people have different opinions on the point at which someone’s allyship crosses the line into performative allyship. However, I think there’s probably good agreement that if the action you’re thinking of has a clear benefit for you, but does not have a clear benefit for the cause you say you support (or worse yet, if the action you’re thinking of doing may actually harm the cause), then you may need to reconsider your action (or think through it some more) in order to avoid performative allyship. One thing that I might consider to be an example of performative allyship was when some people were wearing safety pins in the aftermath of Trump’s election to the presidency—while the intention was to show that someone would be a “safe” person on issues ranging from race to LGBTQ+, I recall the pins being widely critiqued for doing more to advertise a person’s self-righteousness than actually address any problems.

Thinking about whether an action of yours might fall into performative allyship is not just important to the cause you support, but also to yourself. After all, if an action you’re thinking of is not actually going to do anything to benefit the cause you say you support, then, in all due honesty, why bother? Why waste your time doing something that does not support the cause you support in some tangible way? First and foremost, it’s important to make sure you actually help the cause you say you support, but you also want to make sure that you make good use of your time—something that would not be the case if you’re using your time with performative allyship.

Ultimately, performative allyship is unhelpful for both you and the cause you support. Instead, try to aim for what I might call supportive allyship—allyship that brings tangible benefits to the cause you support, regardless of whether there are any benefits for you.

12 Replies to “What Is…Performative Allyship?”

  1. This is so important.

    A way that I’ve been using to kind of feel out if I’m falling into performative allyship is comfort/discomfort. Am I only sharing stuff on social media and reading, thus staying in my comfort zone? Or am I actually showing up with my body and using my voice to intervene when something happens around me, even if it’s uncomfortable?

    Like

  2. As a person who has grown up with the results of polio one of my biggest issues are those who “mean” well in their desire to help with something however they come at it from (and I hate to phrase it this way) but a non-disabled perspective. I always appreciate someone’s willingness to assist however I often have to redo what was done with good intentions but met the helpers needs rather than mine. Nice to have a term now…good article

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was so helpful — putting words to a behavior that’s so common. Of course there is self-serving and just “clueless” performative allyship. I see this latter among very elderly activists who have lost a great deal of agency and live in sheltered environments and cannot trust themselves to make a coherent call to a legislator but want me to find them a particular button — sometimes just a Biden-Harris button, sometimes a more specific issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad this post was helpful! When I was writing this post, I have to confess that I was mostly thinking about people who have a great deal of agency and yet do very little (and it seems to be those types that frustrate a lot of people). That being said, performative allyship is not just limited to that particular population of person, as you rightly pointed out.

      Like

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