Performative Allyship: The Hypocrisy of Not Matching Actions to Words
© Photography by Cyrus Gomez via Unsplash
The recent case of the publishing house Simon & Schuster, who was about to sign a publishing contract with Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, one of the three officers involved in the raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, has once again highlighted the problematic and constant existence of performative allyship.
As a global leader in trade publishing, Simon & Schuster, Inc. provides consumers worldwide with a diverse range of quality books in a wide variety of genres and formats. They are the publishing division of CBS Corporation, a global leader in the media industry.
Last year Simon & Schuster reacted to the uprise in the Black Lives Matter movement by tweeting, "Black stories matter. We stand against racism and violence. We stand with Black authors, illustrators, readers, colleagues, educators, librarians, creators - now, and always."
Now, about a year later, they seem to have forgotten their pledge, as they were about to sign a publishing contract with Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, one of the three officers involved in the raid that led to Breonna Taylor's death. Due to heavy criticism, they withdrew from the deal, which raises the suspicion that the reason for the withdrawal is fear of damage to their image rather than sincere solidarity with the black community.
© Twitter: Simon & Schuster
Stand-up comedian and actress Phoebe Robinson responded to Simon & Schuster's deal announcement by stating: "This is exactly what Black people are talking about when we talk about performative allyship. We don't need you co-signing #BLM years later. We reject your efforts to amplify our stories and our voices. If this is what you mean by 'standing by Black authors, illustrators, readers, colleagues, educators, librarians, creators', trust me when I say: 'We good!' Take your Eddie Bauer and Eileen Fischer and have several seats and keep black people out of your mouths. Having a book deal with one of the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor is disgusting, reprehensible and unconscionable."
Still, many people are not aware of what allyship and consequently performative allyship really is. Therefore let's first look into what an allyship is. Being an ally means to be someone within a non-marginalised group that uses their privilege to advocate on behalf of a marginalised group. It is transferring the benefits of their privilege to those who do not have it. You can find more on how to be an effective ally in one of our previous articles.
Performative allyship, on the other hand, refers to when somebody from the non-marginalised group expresses their solidarity with a marginalised group through means that are often not helpful, corrupted, or actively detrimental to that group. Performative allyship covers a whole spectrum of practices. In essence, it comes down to the practice of words, posts, and gestures that contribute more to promoting a person's own virtuous moral compass than to actually help the causes they intend to present. To put it simply, it refers to cases where the "ally" demonstrates support for their own benefit - to appear "good" on social media or to receive in some other form a reward.
The Simon & Schuster case shows once again the hypocrisy of performative allyship, and unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. With being a larger company comes, or should come, a certain responsibility. Saying one stands behind a marginalised group may be a start, but it cannot be the point where the action ends. Simply posting a hashtag does not make one an ally or an activist. We need to be aware of the problem to address it, and therefore we need to educate ourselves and learn to prevent such events from happening again.