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All signal and no substance

“Performative activism” in action? Julien Benjamin Guillaume Mattia/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Five miles down the road from where I live in Connecticut is Darien, says Kat Rosenfield in UnHerd. It’s a leafy East Coast town regularly ranked on lists of America’s richest communities, with a median household income of $243,750. It’s a pretty homogenous place: the black population is less than 1%. But at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, “a sea of white people in designer sunglasses” took to the streets. They chanted things like “No justice, no peace!” before gathering politely in a local park to listen to the main speaker: a black woman who had travelled up from Brooklyn just for the occasion.

Other waspy East Coast towns were the same. BLM signs “popped up like weeds” in the gardens of multimillion-dollar homes; pricey boutiques proudly displayed signs of support in their windows. It’s ironic. “As genuinely progressive and avowedly anti-racist as these good white liberals may be, the only black people they encounter day to day are invariably paid to be there. The gardener. The maid. The personal trainer.” Which means the signs, the rallies, the #BLM comments online – they’re “all signal and no substance”.

The lawn signs are still there today, “albeit faded by the sun and a bit tattered around the edges”. But I wonder how long they’ll last. After all, in the progressive Twittersphere the black-and-white BLM banner has already been replaced with Ukrainian flags. And in the world of “performative activism”, the causes themselves matter far less than “keeping current”.