Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Every so often, I’ll get bored and start stalking people on Instagram. It starts when I’m mindlessly tapping through stories. I’ll come across somebody I knew in high school posting a bright pink infographic about how to be a good ally to people of color. I’ll wonder how they’re doing, and tap on their page, to find out they’re dating someone at their college. “Good for them,” I’ll think, just as I tap on their partner’s Instagram page.
Bam: Trump flag.
Normally, I really don’t want to bash anyone for their choice in a significant other. But respectfully… what?
There’s a cognitive dissonance here that we need to talk about. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s seen someone spam their Instagram story with posts like “so you want to talk about dismantling carceral systems,” while also actively dating a Republican.
People who politically identify as leftists or liberals theoretically care about policies such as equal rights for underrepresented communities, affordable health care and equal pay. Progressives and leftists also tend to acknowledge that there is systemic oppression on several levels in this country that disproportionately affects underrepresented communities.
As a woman of color, it’s hard to imagine dating someone who doesn’t believe I face oppression — particularly at a largely white school like the University of Maryland. And yet, I’m constantly bombarded with white self-proclaimed progressives on social media posting how enraged they are about Asian hate and police murdering Black people. “Defund the police,” they say, while dating someone who insists that their uncle is a good cop.
Liberals actively choosing to date conservatives is just another manifestation of the performative activism that has become so pervasive on social media lately. It’s become so easy to virtue signal by reposting woke messages instead of taking legitimate, consistent moral stances, including in romantic partnerships.
The social media activism phenomenon began to really take off last summer, when in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, millions of people began posting black squares on their Instagram accounts in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The problem here was those black squares quickly became an easy way for non-Black people to virtue signal — and more seriously, block out relevant information about protests — ultimately resulting in no meaningful change.
But just because the black squares died out, doesn’t mean performative activism isn’t still rampant. Instead, people use well-designed infographics that scream “I’m woke” to justify their engagement with racist people. In some ways, this is even worse than the black squares, because it’s misleading and insulting to people of color who are inclined to believe people who post about issues on social media genuinely believe in what they’re posting.
The point of being an activist is to demonstrate progressive values in every facet of your life. Dating a conservative as a self-proclaimed progressive is indicative of conditional activism, which is ultimately performative. If those values can be thrown aside for a relationship, then that activism is no better than a black square.
Endorsing racist, sexist and homophobic policies and candidates shouldn’t be overlooked when searching for a romantic partner because those indicate major moral differences. The fact that some liberals are able to overlook those traits signals to me that they don’t really care about issues that don’t directly affect them. And while they might hope to potentially change their partner’s views, in today’s polarized political world, that’s idealistic and unrealistic. Instead, by choosing to date people that don’t morally align with them, liberals validate harmful conservative viewpoints and alienate people of color.
Self-proclaimed liberals need to ask themselves if the activism they’re doing online is reflected in their private life. And if not, they need to re-evaluate why they call themselves liberal if none of their actions are consistent with the views they advertise online.
Shreya Vuttaluru is a sophomore government and politics and journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.