Roxie Washington, the mother of George Floyd’s daughter, spoke publicly a week after his death in Minneapolis, Minn.


America is outraged.

It’s evident in the streets as protesters surge through torched neighborhoods. It’s evident in the speeches in which many black activists put words to decades of pain and frustration. It’s evident in the footage of George Floyd’s death, which shows a bystander pleading, “He’s a human being!”

And it’s evident on social media.

Or is it?

Social media has given those moved by Floyd’s death, and the deaths of many other African American men, women and children at the hands of police, a space to express their fears, their anger, their horror at racial violence. It’s where many white people, especially, make promises to do better.

When expressing outrage is as easy as posting a hashtag, a meme or an empty black square, there’s a question of whether that outrage is genuine or performative.

Performative outrage is fleeting and rarely has action behind it. 

“We can gauge whether it’s performative … when we see down the line, months from now, years from now, has there been an ongoing conversation or ongoing willingness for other communities to continue to confront the issues that black communities face,” said Marc Banks, national press secretary of the NAACP.

The is the poor people’s movement. The wealthy & powerful that wish to contribute & support, open your wallets & educate yourselves on the role you play in our oppression. Failure to do those things will show that your outrage is performative & about the moment not the movement.

— Delenciaga (@Duhlency) May 29, 2020

For some people, outrage is a momentary eruption. But for many people of color, it’s a sustained state. Outrage, psychologists say, is used to signal an important moral code has been broken. Research shows the emotion can connect people in a common purpose, fueling activism against injustice.

Outrage also is an often unconscious way of signaling to others where we stand on a moral issue, regardless of whether we have any intention of working toward justice. Outrage lets us show when a moral breach offends us personally, it shows how deeply we feel the wrong, that we are aware of how important it is to keep moral codes.

“Outrage serves a variety of purposes, and some of those purposes are very closely connected to what you’d call ‘performative empathy,’ ” said Terri Apter, a psychologist and author of the book “Passing Judgment.” “Because in performative empathy, you’re saying, ‘I want to signal that I have really good and positive feelings, and I have the right kind of feelings in this situation.’ “

What happens when the feelings you express don’t match the way you behave?

Sask Métis News – Lea Michele, outrage and deflection

Over the weekend, “Glee” actress Lea Michele posted on social media with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, “George Floyd did not deserve this. This was not an isolated incident and it must end.” 

Samantha Ware, an actress of color who appeared in the final season of the musical high school comedy-drama, called out Michele for “traumatic microaggressions” in a tweet that has since gone viral, saying she made the work environment a “living hell.” Many former “Glee” cast mates tweeted in support of Ware.


— SAMEYAAAAAA (@Sammie_Ware) June 2, 2020

Microaggressions: They don’t just ‘hurt your feelings’

Apter said Michele is an example of how, often unconsciously, we project onto others feelings and faults, such as racism, that we do not want to acknowledge in ourselves.

“There are lots of subtle differences in how different people might use outrage, but it’s all sort of the same thing in terms of wanting to appear or even to feel cleaner and purer than the people you are condemning,” she said.

Banks wonders how much is deflection and how much is ignorance. 

“People might not even realize how they’re complicit in the oppression of other communities because they’ve been given this privilege and they have blinders on,” he said. “People have to take off the blinders and see America for what it truly is.”

Michele apologized in an Instagram post Wednesday.

“I listened to these criticisms and I am learning and while I am very sorry, I will be better in the future,” she said.

Sask Métis News – When social media outrage backfires

In an effort to amplify the voices of protesters and raise awareness about police brutality and racism, many social media users muted themselves Tuesday.

The online campaign was declared “Blackout Tuesday” by two black music executives, and conceived of as a day of reflection for the music industry, but it quickly spread to individual accounts.

Participants faced criticism for using the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #BLM when posting black squares, which activists said hid posts with critical resources and information about demonstrations. Though most users who posted were probably well-intentioned, the effort did not help amplify black voices, critics said. Instead, it buried them.

It was unclear what the corporations that participated, and that profit off of black artists, were doing to support the cause. Jack Antonoff tweeted just before the blackout, “How much money is being donated from the labels, publishers, streaming services and all other corners of the music industry tomorrow? i can’t find this info.”

let’s not let up on the music business giants to donate big $ to groups on frontlines. seen it from warner (regardless if it’s public PR money, that 100 mil is still real in the hands of who needs it). the music business is not one that functions out of goodness. apply pressure

— jackantonoff (@jackantonoff) June 3, 2020

Outside of causing confusion, the campaign exposed contradictions.

The Washington Redskins, like many NFL teams, also went dark. But the team’s name has been criticized as being racist to the Native American community for decades.

“Want to really stand for racial justice? Change your name,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

Sask Métis News – Activists say outrage is hollow without action

Signs at protests around the country read, “White silence is violence.” Many white Americans heeding that message are finally speaking out about racial injustice. Activists don’t want to discourage that. They just want people to do more.

“I think there’s a point there for raising awareness, but … if that’s the only thing you do, it’s lackluster,” Banks said. “In terms of what it adds to a debate that’s been going on for 400 years of slavery and oppression and racism, it doesn’t do much.”

Do more: 100 ways you can take action against racism

Read more: Must-read books about racism

Talk more: What to tell our children about racial violence

Post online, activists say. Use a hashtag to show support or share an illustration that moves you. Then do something else. 

Call politicians. Set up a fundraiser. Organize events that center on black people. Talk to your kids, your family, your friends. Look at yourself. Reflect on where you are, they say, and all the ways the color of your skin may have helped you get there.

Privilege belongs to those who can express outrage over Floyd’s death, then return to their lives until the next tragedy. People of color say for them, there is nothing safe to return to.

George Floyd video adds to trauma: ‘When is the last time you saw a white person killed online?’

“Working in this space and being black, we live a different reality, and it’s something that we cannot turn off,” Banks said. “It’s something that we go through every day whether it be microaggressions from white supremacists or racism or race-based discrimination. … For those who tweet or post and then go back to having brunch or selfies or whatever they may do, that’s a luxury. And some white people still haven’t realized that.”



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Alia E. Dastagir is a recipient of a Rosalynn Carter fellowship for mental health journalism. Follow her on Twitter: @alia_e

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