Why I don’t believe in ‘solidarity’ anymore
When you imagine the word “solidarity,” what comes to mind? A circle of diverse-looking teens, all on the front lines of an ambiguous protest, supporting each other? A multiracial crowd of people uplifting a disenfranchised minority? A circle of multicolored hands?
For me, it’s a scenario or, rather, a series of scenarios — I go to a march and meet my friends. People are smiling (for some reason); I have a poster board with meticulous block letters and it’s the perfect, aesthetically pleasing version of protest, like the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad. Then, I cut to another type of protest, I’m solemn, scared, and nearly alone. This one doesn’t have a specific setting though – it can be anywhere, and that’s a part of the fear. In the second protest, another Black boy has died, or another police officer hasn’t been indicted or another law has been made to kill us faster and when I look around, no one is there.
The concept of solidarity, to me, has always meant helping others fight, but being alone when it came to issues that affected me. I fear this constant disappointment has made me cynical and selfish. I do not make an effort to go to protests anymore unless they are for Brown and Black people. I walk past rallies and lectures about women’s issues and push down the part of me that says it’s wrong to ignore them. I am, indeed, both Black and a woman, and though both of those identities are marginalized and could bring me harm, only one, I fear, would get justice. That, I guess, is where I decided long ago to draw the line. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel fair, but it’s the way I have now chosen to live, and I’m sorry it has to be this way. The idea of solidarity is one I’d like to live by, but so far in life it has failed me.
Attending a predominantly white institution since I was five years old has affected me in many ways. I learned slowly that I was not just a person but a Black person, and that would mean something for the rest of my life. Once I had discovered, albeit somewhat slowly and not quite fully, that I was Black and what that meant, I began to fight. I debated, I wrote, I argued, I drew posters for one of many Baltimore protests against police brutality – but I found, quickly, that I was one of very few. It hurt me, but I felt that I was one of the only people who could fight those battles within my school, so I kept doing it, no matter how much it hurt, and I never saw anything wrong with that. Sure, I knew it was painful and difficult and made me want to cry too often, but I was the one who had the heart to do it, and therefore, I had to. For the good of everyone.
Around the middle of my senior year, some students started to discover the sexism and misogyny that inevitably affected the math and science departments at our school, and some of them began planning a small protest to happen on our school’s front steps. This was all very much a secret, but two teachers brought it up to me and told me I should join the cause and help with preparations. The leader of this movement, a friend of mine, invited me to make posters with some of the other girls. I didn’t go.
When a couple of counselors put out a call to create posters for a protest in honor of Freddie Grey, I was there, but I was one of 5 people, including students and faculty. When I spoke out against problematic teachers or got into arguments with friends about white supremacy, those girls weren’t there – no one was. It was just me, my voice and all of the strength I could muster before my fight-or-flight response kicked in and I couldn’t think anymore. I was tired when high school ended – I still am, but I had also given up on helping everybody else with their movement and having no one show up for mine.
I’d spent four years trying to make my issues matter to people, and all that got me was tears, stress and ruined friendships. I continued to speak up, attended lectures and assemblies, fought for issues that mattered, and at the end of the day when it came to issues that affected Black people, most of my white friends and some of my Brown friends forgot, went home, or hadn’t paid attention.
Ultimately, I believe that all oppressed people deserve to not be oppressed – I believe in fighting against all wrongs, no matter if they affect me or not. But I’m not sure if that notion will survive. I’m burnt out, and the more I fight, the more it hurts when I show up to a nearly empty classroom, lecture or protest.