Updated: Mar 9, 2020
I had two built-in rivals growing up. They were a constant reminder to me that I had to stay on my toes if I wanted to rightfully say, I did something "the best". I always waited it out for the last piece of pizza the best, so I could eat it in front of them. I got dressed and ready first the best. I learned how to ride my bike first the best. I got the best grades in school. I got to the T.V. first the best and memorized the opening theme song lyrics to cartoons first the best. I never scored the highest on Mario Kart though, my youngest sister was best at that.
I was the oldest in our rivalry only by16 months, but still, I was the oldest, which made me ...the best. At least in my 7-year-old mind, I was. Our rivalry carried us through a super hard childhood and a lot of trauma. I can remember it bringing us to some really dark days in our relationship and to some deep character confronting times. We "made each other sick" a lot growing up. There was an even greater amount of drama in our pre-teen years signified by the often deep-throated utterance of the phrase " she makes me sick," through clenched teeth. Other times, the hate was made known by yelling and fighting, but most times it was made known by not speaking to each other. Our mother ever the expert conflict avoider, would yell out her solution in the middle of every fight, "STOP!". I still have the strong opinion that the word 'stop' is the archenemy of conflict resolution. "Stop" is never enough. It's not fair. It doesn't allow you to get to the why behind the fight and I always hated having to just drop my self-entitled anger. I wanted to finish the fight. Like all good mothers, she would always follow up on her one-word solution with some advice served with guilt on the side. That advice was always the same every time. She would say, " I didn't grow up with my sisters, I didn't have what you have. So ya'll need to learn to understand that you will always be sisters". I'm sure she said some other insightful, valuable words after those speeches, but like every good teenager, I was always too angry and too prideful to listen to the rest.
The rivalry was ever-present, but so was built-in solidarity, and as we got older, solidarity slowly started to outrank and outpace our rivalry. Though it was oftentimes intuitive and unspoken, when we were actually in a bind our solidarity was unbreakable. We felt the same pain together, and so we plotted against it together. That's where our solidarity lived, in the fight against a common pain. That's where all solidarity lives. "The three of us are different versions of the same person", is what I would tell people when they asked about me and my sisters. See most people think solidarity means uniform. It doesn't. It means, in short, together-committed. Yes, I just made that word up, but it sums it up the best for me. There are three and a half years between me and the youngest and sixteen months between me and the middle, our personalities are worlds apart and those differences fueled a ton of arguments. Yet, our pain and common proximity to it fostered a deep unspoken solidarity that most other sisters I know do not have.
As we grew into our own adulthood, my younger sisters began to outpace me in life, marrying before me, having children and purchasing homes before me. The two of them now have new bonds of solidarity with their husbands and children that are a priority, and they share new commonalities as wives and parents. I find myself on the outside of a lot of their conversations about raising children and mortgage payments, and we shifted from one unit to a bonafide three when their last names changed. Now, I am by default, the best at being single! Over time though, I began to see again our solidarity had evolved to a new level, and into a new adult kind of pain. Yes, we still share the painful childhood of our past, but now we stand in the present reality of being Black Women in America.
"We stand in the present reality of being Black Women in America."
Art: Camila Rosa-camilarosa.net
We move as one unit again each time we hear news stories about Black profiling, or anytime we are the only three Black people in a public social setting. The solidarity is glaring in discussions surrounding young Black men and women being disproportionately shot by the police or hearing about how Black women are disregarded, abused unprotected and profiled in the workplace. This new-found solidarity crossed into our lives almost suddenly, it really just was there one day, born once again through a unique commonly threaded struggle.
An act of solidarity against a common rival can erase that same struggle for the next generation or at a minimum bring awareness to it. We now live in a climate where the fight for oppression and marginalization has become a "trend" thanks to social media. There are plenty of fists in the air, hashtags, and t-shirts for just about every topic deemed unjust.There are plenty of unjust systems that need the attention of a social justice advocate. Ironically, Black solidarity has historically been politicized and weaponized. Always. In the Western world, when Black people come together in solidarity against...anything really, it is viewed as a threat to the rights of those in the racial and ethnic majority. Gather a group of Black folk together to talk about racial injustice and you will find majority led social justice groups trying to "help" make the oppression sound more "palatable" to reach "all audiences". (These air quotes represent actual "suggestions" given to me at different times.)
What is even more damaging in this trending of social justice, is the misappropriation of the original narratives created specifically for the fight against Black racial oppression. As a result, the vein of racialized systems pitted against Black people gets shrouded in the "All lives matter" movement, and original Civil rights narratives have been relabeled as general "injustice".
The problem with Black equity misappropriation is that Black Civil Rights movements, literature, and institutions, created by Black people for the freedom and equity of Black people, have been assigned to this bucket of universal cultural equity. In doing this, we dilute the experience and context of the person who penned the words. The result is the birth of neutrality and the sidestepping of the very real, existence of the racial discrimination that motivated the writer to that specific activism.
"We must remember that Black oppression runs deeper than a platform for idealistic social justice"
People post Mandela on social media because it sounds inspiring and gives us a feeling of empowerment for change, but we must remember that the poignancy of that quote comes out of the context of being a Black man fighting one of the most powerful legalized racist systems towards Black African's in the world. His context is lost on us when the quote is misappropriated to mean general injustice, bullying, and mistreatment. You shouldn't quote Martin Luther King Jr. in the pulpit on the Sunday before the Martin Luther King holiday, if you haven't actively sought to appoint any People of Color on your Executive leadership team. That would be hypocritical. Martin Luther King Jr. started marching because there was a lack of freedom and equity for...Black people. If you are not modeling the intent behind these quotes, you are nullifying the intent of the writer which allows the specified oppression to slip right on through. We must remember that Black oppression runs deeper than a platform for idealistic social justice. Black oppression is oppression targeted towards Black-skinned lives. The Black-skinned voices and Black-skinned experiences plagued by that oppression should never take a back seat to a trend of plagiarizing social justice meant for Black people. We need solidarity to keep that awareness alive and it has to outrank our personal differences. I said outrank, not dismiss. The fight against Black Racial oppression needs solidarity from every racial group, and it simultaneously needs to be haunted by intentional, anti-racist, Black solidarity or it will creep up in another form. It's both, and.
"We have to remember to be able to hold space for multiple perspectives"
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael in Jackson, Miss., at the Meredith March in 1966. (Bob Fitch/Stanford University Libraries/Bob Fitch, Stanford University Libraries/HBO) #solidarity
Yes, Black people, this fight needs our solidarity. Not our sameness, not a monolithic approach or even our agreement on the execution, but it does need our solidarity in that we make it known we have drawn a line in the sand as anti-racists. Our plight is nuanced and we have to remember to hold space for multiple perspectives and experiences. We still have very far to go within the culture and diaspora to promote the preservation of security for Black women, and to address poverty, education, and mental health for the Black culture. We disagree, we hold opposing perspectives, different experiences, we swag, speak, teach and love differently. Black people are international, cross-generational, cross-ethnic and cross-cultured. We are nuanced.
Tragedy happens when those nuances are internally weaponized.
Just as my sisters and I realized the progression of our solidarity through a common pain, the diaspora has a commonly threaded enemy and that is why on this, on this anti-racism agenda we have got to be together-committed to stand together. If we work more on learning about each other and respecting our right to be multi-faceted, we nurture solidarity. Yes, again, the plight is nuanced. I am not blind to the fact that total eradication calls for nothing less than a cross-racial response, and the holistic addressing of a system that was created to divide and conquer. As a Christian I wholeheartedly believe this fight is also Spiritual and am saddened by the lackluster involvement in anti-racism by my own faith community. However, there should always be some unique semblance of solidarity as Black people in the fight for equity. We may not have grown up together, but we have got to fight this rival together individually and collectively. Together-committed.
Let's talk about it! Comment below or chat with a trusted friend.
Discussion Questions for your friend group:
What does solidarity look like in your world? How does "cancel culture" impact that?
How can you start a conversation between your Black-American friends and Black Caribbean, Black Latino or Black African diaspora friends etc. about solidarity?
How can we maintain a singular focus on pointing out there is still a need for Black social justice?
How uncomfortable is it for you to specify Black social justice and the need for equity in your own circles? Do you feel there is still a need? What influences your reason for that?
Does solidarity mean being fully accepting of another person's actions and way of thinking? If not what does it mean to you?
What are some ways we can express solidarity in anti-racism?