Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi on Unsplash. Chalk writing on the street near the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis.

Performative Allyship after 2020: Did Real Change Come at All?

By Jessica Lit

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, we witnessed the United States (and in fact, much of the rest of the world) experience a massive shift in consciousness regarding racial equity. Many of those who had been ignorant or unaware of the blatant racial injustice in our country for so long, finally woke up and started to fight alongside those who had been doing it already. 

A huge aspect of this “great awakening” was companies and institutions both big and small taking stock of how they participated in not only racial inequity, but harms faced by other marginalized groups. This reckoning, so to speak, took many forms from simply posting a statement in solidarity on their social media platforms to hiring Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility and Belonging (“DEIAB”) consultants to help them better understand and address their faults. 

At the time, to those working in the DEIAB space and those who had fought on the front lines for so long, it seemed that maybe, just maybe that there might be some real change coming. It is now two years later and sometimes I find myself wondering, “did real change come at all?”

I work in the theatre industry full-time. A space that is supposed to be the herald of inclusivity. However, the theatre industry did not escape 2020 unscathed. After years and years of promoting inclusivity while doing the complete opposite behind closed doors, the theatre industry got called out. In response, many theatre companies, non-profit organizations and producers did exactly what the other companies and institutions did. They posted statements of solidarity on their social media platforms, added land acknowledgements and anti-racism statements to their websites, and promised to “do better” in the future. 

Unfortunately, in my line of work, I have encountered far too many instances of arts organizations claiming to be progressive with anti-racism statements, DEIAB committees and task forces formed, but when they have to actually address a harm they have perpetuated, they double down on that harm. I know that this is not just in the theatre industry, but everywhere. Companies, organizations, and people have done everything they think they’re supposed to do to appear “woke” on paper. However, it’s not only about fighting against injustice when you become aware of it but also confronting how you have contributed to it. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not a complete pessimist. There certainly was change made. In the past two years, I have had many productive conversations about race, gender, sexuality and other identity differences that I never expected to have. I think people across the country have had similar experiences in that regard. However, while small and incremental changes are good, they are not what many of us were hoping for. All we can do now is continue to do the work to address biases and inequities on individual, interpersonal, structural and systemic levels and hope that as many of these organizations start to get called out for their performative allyship, more change comes.

*Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi on Unsplash