Solidarity, One Person at a Time

I’m not going to write about Ferguson. I thought about it: there are things that I want to say, unfinished thoughts and rants I have stored away, but every time I’ve gone to actually put something together I just feel that anything I say will have already been said, and likely by someone who has more of a right to say it. I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling: one hopeful thing that I’ve seen coming out of the actions and protests around Ferguson are some really thoughtful discussions on what it means to show solidarity with a community of which you might not be a member, and the need to centre the experiences and goals of those directly impacted. It’s been hard for me, honestly: there have been a number of times in the past week or so when I felt that I overstepped and inserted myself into a space that I didn’t necessarily belong, and I’m still trying to work out for myself what I need to do to show solidarity in an effective and respectful way.
As I’ve been thinking through these questions, I keep wondering if there’s a way to model the way solidarity should work on a smaller scale, and I keep going back to the analogy of an interpersonal relationship (spurred on mostly by this tweet from Arthur Chu). And really, when we’re one-one-one with someone else, most of us have a pretty good idea of what it means to be, essentially, an ‘ally’. We know that our role is not necessarily to direct the course of action, or to question or invalidate the other person’s goals and emotions; we’re there to support, to assist when asked, and most importantly, to listen. We also know that even if we may have had similar experiences that we can draw on for reference, no two situations is exactly the same and there’s no way of really knowing what the other person is feeling. And finally, crucially, we care about what happened to the other person not just because it could also happen to us, or that we feel that pain, but because the very fact of it happening to the other person is wrong in itself.
I will be the first to admit that it is overly simplistic to say that solidarity between different social groups of varying degrees of power and privilege is the same as a supportive relationship between friends. Most people, after all, aren’t implicated in causing their friends’ harm, while often we must face the fact that the group we belong to actively perpetuated the oppression that we are now trying to stand in solidarity against. Moreover, while I think it’s pretty easy for most people to accept that no two individual people are going to have the exact same experiences, I think it is much harder for people to accept the reality that the lived experiences of two different groups – particularly groups with different degrees of privilege – can be just as disparate. I do wonder though, if it’s possible to take those principles that most of us seem to accept when it comes to dealing with another individual and bring it to situations that are defined not just by personal experience but by the experience of a social group or community. If nothing else, I think it’s useful as a reminder that when we think about solidarity with ‘the Black community’ or ‘the Asian community’ or whoever, we are fundamentally talking about being in solidarity with other people, people who are experiencing anger or sadness or grief, and our primary focus as people working in solidarity should be to respect that.

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