The Curse of Performative PR By Alex Teng

Performative PR: a form of marketing where companies decide to put out statements to support movements for good publicity. Throughout this Pride month, you may have seen some companies changing their online profile pictures to include the Pride flag or even post statements in open support of the LGBTQ+ community. It has become a more prevalent occurrence in recent years, but how many of these companies are actually continuing this acceptance behind closed doors?

Throughout June we have been celebrating Pride: a month dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. This year’s Pride month is perhaps the most important one since the Stonewall riots in 1969, as on the second day of Pride this year, the music industry announced #BlackOutTuesday, a day where artists would halt their normal posting schedule to stand in solidarity with the black community. This initiative quickly spread outside of the music industry, with many people posting statements signalling their support to the Black Lives Matter movement. The #BlackOutTuesday tag on Instagram racked up over 28.9M posts compared to the #blacklivesmatter tag with only 20.9M (as of June 8th).

Despite Pride and BLM appearing like two different issues, these movements are more linked than you may initially think. The painful history of Pride began with the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The riots began in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where the patrons fought back after the police became violent. The six-day riots became a catalyst for LGBT rights in the US, with Marsha P. Johnson, a black drag queen, alongside other trans women of colour, leading the fight for gay liberation.

The current BLM movement has taken over all 50 states in the US and 14 countries around the world, with marches and protests. As much as it is upsetting that Pride marches are cancelled this year due to the current COVID-19 situation, it’s important to return to our roots and educate ourselves on the history of the LGBTQ+ community.

Throughout this month, it has been interesting to see what companies are choosing to support and what they are not, through what they are deciding to post. Some companies such as YouTube, who pride themselves on having a platform where people are free to express their views and opinions will post statements in support of movements such as Pride or stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. However, the constant demonetisation of LGBTQ+ content creators and recently, the removal of videos from black creators who were raising money from the ad revenues for bail funds, have directly contradicts YouTube’s public statements. YouTube is not the only company that has come under fire for their hypocrisy; many beauty and fashion brands partaking in Black Out Tuesday were called out by Black influencers who had negative experiences working with them.

Although Black Out Tuesday began from a place of good intention, with Instagram users halting their posts for a day to give space to reflect on the horrors of police brutality and the tragic death of George Floyd, it quickly became a trend. Many people felt pressured into posting a black square even though they had not spoken up about it previously – including large companies that want to be seen as inclusive, despite not taking the action to prove it. This was purely performative, and the action was as empty as the black square on their profile.

The root of the cause of performative PR for companies starts from not having enough diversity within their staff. With more minority groups working in higher positions of power, it would mean there would be less chance of empty promises from the company or institution. Actions speak louder than words, and to begin having diversity and inclusion in large corporations, we rely on allies to use their privilege to begin pushing for more inclusion.

All of us are guilty of performative ally-ship; it is easy to post on social media your support for both Pride and Black Lives Matter, but it’s harder to be genuinely authentic in our ally-ship and choose to call out people in our circles when they say or do something wrong. It is difficult and it is uncomfortable but together we must stand together in solidarity and make sure that we are holding people accountable for their actions. We must question corporations’ motivations when they release these statements of support - are they doing it for monetary gain or do they truly care about minority groups? Learn the difference between what it means to be performative and what it means to be authentic.


Created with an image by lalo Hernandez - "Instagram Prisma"