Performative Gestures: A Content Analysis of Public Statements that Express Support for BLM

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This comprehensive report examines the link between public statements and institutional history of racist policy and practice—a topic thrust into the national spotlight during the spring and summer of 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. We studied 831 public statements collected by four sectors of American society (education, politics, sports, and business) between May 26 and June 15, 2020 that expressed sympathy with the Black Lives Matter Movement. We conducted this research to argue that failure to acknowledge personal/institutional wrongdoings in the past combined with the failure to provide concrete measures to change policy and practice raises questions about whether or not the statements were designed to actually fix prevailing injustices in America’s institutions or to fleetingly reckon with White silence. We contend “performative authenticity” in the form of routine and hollow public declarations without tangible action that appease White emotionality and serve as a mechanism to express allyship with historically terrorized communities. Without tangible action, it is reasonable for People of Color to consider such statements micro-aggressive actions. Using critical discourse analysis (CDA), this study evaluates each statement's content using a grading metric designed by the Equity Institute for Race Conscious Pedagogy, LLC. It is found that statements displaying greater empathy and understanding about anti-Black racism along with those that offer concrete answers to end systemic anti-People of Color racism are commonly authored by women, People of Color, and liberal-leaning individuals, institutions, and organizations. We also discovered that the best statements are written by educators, CEOs, politicians, and athletic organizations that seek guidance from a diverse panel of advisors. Finally, we uncovered that those groups for which the statements are intended want fewer statements of regret, guilt, and repentance, and more practical action plans that explain how individual institutions, organizations and schools will disrupt racist behavior and inequitable policies.

This study exposes the differences between good and empathetic public statements and can serve as a guide to how schools, school districts, institutions of higher education leadership, and other American institutions can comfort student bodies during traumatic experiences.

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