When we reflect on our society, the most prominent thoughts that come to mind are ones revolving around social atrocities. The truth is, our contemporary society inherited a world that is still reeling from wars as well as economic, social, and environmental crises. The consequences of these circumstances became a normality in everyday life and seem unnecessary to be acknowledged as they are a part of us just as much as they are a part of the world. They make up our values, how we perceive the world, and determine the dreams that we willingly invest in. When confronted by these inevitable circumstances, there always exists two options: resistance or compliance. And what we choose to do with this damaged world is up to us; to either discard it or continue protecting it in hopes of a societal rebirth.
Looking back at our society’s recent feats, one might conclude that society has opted for the latter as waves of activism have engulfed people’s personal objectives and flooded their persistent endeavours. With principles of tolerance, acceptance, and justice being the main focus of people’s internal assimilation, it is apparent that society is on its way to creating a new era, an era of change.
The Pressure For Change
However, despite the optimism of a more just future, the prospect of a rebirth can also be daunting with its pressure of obtaining perfection and fulfilling society’s idealism of the most just community. This pressure is felt collectively by all of society’s members which leads to rigid societal standards that leave no room for error. Activism is at its peak, but with it comes the pressure of supporting a cause and portraying oneself as an avid protector of social justice, leading to a rise in insincerity. This makes us wonder: is falsified social action better than no action at all?
It is undoubtedly heartwarming and inspiring to see swarms of people gathering towards a unified goal of sparking change and ensuring the protection of others, but if we gaze across a crowd and were able to see the contents of a person’s soul, how many would remain within that crowd who truly believed in the cause they are fighting for with such fervency? This hypocrisy should not be solely regarded as a blame that must be carried by its doer, it must be acknowledged as an effect of the way that our society pressures its members into actively taking part of social movements and addressing their privilege.
When a movement that has such noble principles and ideologies consists of members that are half-heartedly providing support and have little knowledge and awareness regarding what they are actually fighting for, its original value seems to almost be debased and it loses its initial honourability. What we should be asking ourselves is whether our yearning for a rebirth in societal values should come at the cost of genuineness and be replaced by superficiality. These injustices and issues that are fought for should not be demeaned to mere trends that are spoken about in passing simply as a method of relieving oneself from a duty imposed by one’s fellow members of society. Such a behaviour is known as performative activism, which is defined as activism for the sole purpose of elevating one’s social capital rather than because of genuine allyship to a cause.
This behavior is even more apparent as activism has renewed itself and been made more conspicuous in virtue of its online platform. With such accessibility to information regarding injustices and social issues, deliberate action can be taken even more quickly than ever, enabling online movements to be initiated with intense rapidity and to accumulate thousands of supporters. Although this openness leaves little room for concealment of social atrocities, it also takes away the privacy of one’s opinions and causes a person’s online presence to be heavily scrutinised by the world.
Following many recent controversial issues that have occured, the online world has demanded a response from its community concerning these issues. Although such a reaction is admirable as it derives from the intentions of pursuing change, it is unfortunately a reaction that can be stifling and pressuring. With such a notion, people are drawn to believe that the people they admire are responsible in upholding and showing support for the same struggles that they are standing up for. Precipitating others into taking social justice actions can actually cause them to defy it even more, and the person may turn away from the movement indefinitely. Social pressure is always frowned upon for other aspects, so why should it be accepted in this context?
Encouraging these people to learn more about the social movements we support is an ideal way to create a discourse regarding the social issues we are facing but forcing them to address the situation when we do not know the knowledge that they possess regarding it is not only detrimental but also goes against the prospect of a social movement. If we truly want to see societal change, we should not be forcing other people to conform to the one role of an active speaker in support of our social movements, we should be embracing everyone who is committed to changing their ways no matter how small and recognising the injustices that infiltrate our environments. Our enthusiasm and yearning for change should not be forced on others because if we were to do so, can we truly call it change?
How To Sincerely Support A Social Movement
The pressure for collective and immediate action can be so overwhelming at times that one may be swept away by it and feel the need to react accordingly with little deliberation and knowledge. Although social movements are good, participating in them should be a voluntary act and not one derived from compliance with societal norms. It is inherent in humans to try and do the right things so we may easily be swept away by this insatiable desire to do good. However, in this case, doing good may lead you to do more harm as it does not address the root of the issue and simply gives the impression that a change has occurred on the surface level. Hence, providing one’s support should come from a place of sincere understanding regarding the struggle of the movement itself. Here are a few ways how one can provide sincere support separate from external pressure:
1.Educate yourself regarding the history of the movement
Most movements that are in existence today are movements that are long-standing with struggles that date back years if not decades. Similarly to society, these social movements undergo changes over time and evolve according to the demands of its particular era. This makes learning about a movement’s history so much more important because its initial purpose can get lost within the constant evolutions and emergence of new waves, making its followers lose sight of what the movement truly stands for. Researching more about the background of social movements enables a person to fully comprehend the extent of a group’s struggle, especially if one is not part of that group. Especially in cases of social marginalization, learning about their history can give you an insight into their sufferings and provide you with appreciation towards the movement’s goals. By doing so, one’s understanding regarding the true nature of people’s sufferings and their ancestors can be consolidated and one can identify their actual role in supporting these movements, which not only entail voicing out their opinion but can sometimes involve changing their own lifestyle. This process of learning as well as unlearning oppressive perceptions cannot simply be done in one sitting and must be acknowledged as a lifelong endeavour.
2. Be selective about the activism related content you post on social media
Although vocalising concerns regarding social issues is beneficial to shed light on the issue itself, it may do more harm than good, especially when one is not part of the marginalised group. When posting such content, it risks taking away the attention from the people who have suffered from oppression themselves and diverts the attention to oneself, which is not the purpose of social movements. Especially when one has not been at the receiving end of their treatment, one may fail to encompass their full experience and assume things which can further reinforce biases and stereotypes towards people that have already been treated unjustly, creating further prejudice. As most supporters are common citizens, there is a high chance that the knowledge that one possesses is limited in regards to the social issue they are advocating for so sharing one’s opinion could be detrimental due to false information which also unintentionally silences the words of those who face these injustices. The best way to show support is to transform your social media into a platform that enables the amplification of the voices of the marginalised by promoting their works and their discourses as well as sharing educational posts so that we can all stay informed together.
3. Reflect on your own actions and how you can change them for the better
As has already been stressed in this article, advocacy should not rely on empty promises that are made to be socially accepted. We must regard these words that we utter to others to possess a certain binding force, a force which obliges us to translate them into action. We would all like to believe that we are doing our best for the world, especially when we are against social injustices but the truth is, most of us are contributing to the perpetuation of these injustices in subtle ways due to most atrocities being embedded in the structural aspects of our lives. Looking back on our lifestyle choices and our everyday decisions is such an important method of holding ourselves accountable for our own past actions so that we may conduct ourselves in a manner that is more supportive of the social movements we strive to fight for. Apart from taking action at an individual level, we can also participate more actively in support of movements to instill change in our community may it be through donations, organising events, or volunteering. In short, although our actions may seemingly not affect society as it merely involves changes on a personal level, it can already be considered support for a movement as it clearly reflects genuine commitment to a cause.
Ultimately, society has a tendency to focus on the active roles that people play when they identify themselves as a supporter of a movement and pressure them into vocalising their opinion and being avid advocates for a cause. However, a movement only ever succeeds if its supporters play different roles in ensuring its longevity and striving towards realising its objectives. One should not feel obligated to act as an active speaker of these movements provided that they play their part in a way that matters. We all have different roles and they are equally important, regardless if they are not outwardly evident and seem to transpire merely behind-the-scenes. As long as we are all sincerely and passionately working towards change, even if we are doing so silently, there will certainly be a shift in society and society will find itself rebirthed.
By: Julia Rosalyn