The Problem With Rainbow-Tinted Facebook Profile Pictures
In the wake of the historic Supreme Court decision to universally legalize same-sex marriage, 26 million Facebook users demonstrated their support by superimposing a rainbow-tinted flag over their profile pictures.
On the one hand, this seemed like an inspiring indication of progress: It quickly, easily, and publicly allowed people to show their support for the SCOTUS decision as well as LGBTQ+ rights more broadly. It functioned both as a symbol of celebration and declaration of one’s stance on an important social issue. A profile picture isn’t a vote, a petition, or even an impassioned status, but it is a way for people who might not otherwise do anything to subtly state their opinion. Changing one’s picture could also inspire others to start a conversation, change their own photo or speak out.
But there’s a downside to this phenomenon, too. It seems we live in an era of commodified “activism.” Acts that were once radical have become frivolous celebrations: Pride parades, for example, have become must-attend parties for hip, straight teens — and an opportunity for great Instagram photos and Snapchat stories — rather than an attempt to create positive visibility for a marginalized community. In this context, rainbow tinted profile pictures seem to be less of a sincere attempt to support the LGBTQ+ community than they are a personal reflection of one’s own identity. “Look at how progressive I am!” they scream.
While it is, of course, the goal of LGBTQ+ activists to generate widespread support for marginalized groups, we have to acknowledge that there is a difference between supporting a group and co-opting their activism for the sake of seeming cool and progressive. In some (privileged) groups, activist and “ally” have become coveted social titles which, at best, make one seem compassionate and hip, and, at worst, function to justify or excuse racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/etc behavior. The rainbow picture phenomenon seems to perfectly demonstrate at least the former point: Changing your profile picture to quickly show one’s friends how cool and progressive and trendy you are counter-productively redirects attention towards you and away from the actual issues.
Ultimately, we must resist allyship that centers more on allies than it does the issues and systems of oppression the marginalized groups they supposedly support face. Doing so effectively allows this oppression to continue under the guise of progress.
So what’s the solution? Pair your rainbow filtered profile picture with sharing an article about how people can still be fired for being gay in many states. Be very vocal about your opinions, but then use your position of privilege to amplify and support LGBTQ+ voices. Care because equality is necessary and correct, not because it’s cool.
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