I was in power-down mode last night at about 8:40pm when Rihanna inadvertently set the South-Asian diaspora on fire with #FarmersProtest. I hadn’t even got round to my ritual of redbush tea and I had a couple of direct messages asking “you going to post about the farmer’s protest?”. Pump the brakes, let me sip my tea first. Ok leggo...
Recently we’ve been noticing a large trend of people documenting activities or paying lip service to support particular movements - from the Libyan government protests in London to the BLM movement all around the world. Let’s be clear - taking a selfie on a march to prove you care or posting a black square alone does not solve the issue - it is what we called performative activism. Putting more effort into the display and expression of solidarity versus actually moving the needle doesn’t help the effort.
Let’s set the baseline there. If we all have a clear understanding of what performative activism is unless you are a large organisation or a person of influence with trailblazing capabilities, how is prompting someone to post to social media going to help move the campaign forward? Some might say it raises awareness - if we take the usual blanket action rate of 2% that means even a micro-influencer with 10,000 followers will have 200 people like, comment, or share the post. Wait up, I’m trying to find a way to get a hot segue into how this can be used to mobilise communities in real life - maybe if I refill my tea that might help.
No that was a lie, it won’t help. You see Hasan Minhaj coined it perfectly in Patriot Act - everyone is posting and trying to get your attention for their movement and campaigns which is causing compassion fatigue. We have been pulled in so many directions that trigger different tribes in us - do you even care about the turtles swimming in plastic? You don’t believe climate change is real? Why aren’t you a feminist? Shouldn’t we be helping indigenous communities?... Ok, stop. I need to refill my tea after that. It becomes the worst activity to figure out what the priority is, like having only one hot meal left in a communal soup kitchen and figuring out who gets to have it.
But don’t stop there, let's add your ethnic identity to it. If you are part of the South-Asian diaspora you must show your devout sprint-to-the finish support otherwise your brown card will be revoked? I’m surprised Brit-Asian comedian Romesh Ranganathan hasn’t been hounded by a brown-mob. I mean it makes sense - he was a teacher, and has performed in a satirical and sarcastic style - he’s the perfect poster boy for this! It doesn’t matter that he’s Sri Lankan, or that he’s a confessed coconut and resonates deeply with hip-hop and black culture - no intricate part of what makes up his identity matters apart from being brown.
Other Brit-Asians and personalities in the limelight from the diaspora are receiving this compounding pressure right now. We’re expecting them to politicise their platforms especially when they have never been vocal about any socio-political issues, or have the experience in political activism. Some will say “but they have a mass following, they should speak up about it”. Yep, that’s right, when a high profile individual has a huge following, but no experience in discussing or handling sensitive issues and matters it will surely always turn out picture-perfect. Do you remember that time a property mogul won the US election?
Yep, we wanted to stay clear of the T-word, just like all the other bullshit in 2020 let’s leave him there. But we can’t stay clear of the M-word - Modi, yes you were probably wondering when we’ll address the elephant in the room. The farmers are protesting against a series of agricultural laws that see the deregulation of crop pricing which farmers say will leave them at the mercy of big corporations. This will destabilize the crop prices and could cause financial ruin for the Jat farmers. However, the Dalits (India’s indigenous community that face discrimination as a low caste) will find themselves further in ruin due to the small size of landholdings, unequal access to financial and infrastructural resources, and huge debt bondage. These are the people most affected yet they will become the most invisible throughout this movement.
Still confident your one post will cause a butterfly effect? We don’t think so - there’s a huge difference between being a spectator to political activism and then taking action. Taking the authority to monitor everyone else’s social media feeds and triggering others to post is a toxic projection. The lack of movement and inability to cause an actual change in the ego will cause people to point the finger, this very much about the I and you. What we need to do is change this to the collective ‘we’ and ‘us’.
Instead of berating someone to post about the Farmers Protest, rally your own local community and contact your local MP, State Governors or Local Councils. Perhaps get in touch with relatives overseas in India who are politically and geographically affected - ask to find out what resources and support they need. That’s real activism, if you are going to post then provide calls-to-action. Real activism is about using your time, energy, and finances - really paying the price of activism without seeking the glory - and this is exactly what performative activism is. All glory, no price.
Rihanna had a real wtf moment which is why she posted about the #FarmersProtest. This was genuine disbelief at what was happening, but as part of the South-Asian diaspora let’s not turn to cliche Indian soap operas and over-dramatise our disgust on social media. Before you point with your fingers, look at your palms and if they aren’t weathered enough you haven’t done the work and paid the price. Don’t perform - act.
To learn more about the Farmers Protest and how you can actually help, we've collected a few useful resources for you here: