Idealize This: Solidarity Tipsheet

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Maysie Maysie's picture
Idealize This: Solidarity Tipsheet

I found this on Racialicious this morning.

3 simple (albeit wordy) tips for doing solidarity work the right way.

Tip #1: Realize that, no matter how much you know, you actually don't know shit.

When Americans set out to work transnationally, we have a tendency to assume that our education, or experience, or even underprivileged upbringing makes us both "insiders" into other people's struggles as well as qualified to tell them how to address it. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that a poli sci major, a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, and/or a stint as the president (and incidentally only member) of your local Amnesty International Chapter makes you qualified to be anything more than an asshole just shy of completing an undergraduate degree.

Third World activists, as well as scholars studying transnational activism, have long decried the Western tendency to speak for, over, and about people of the Third World under the seemingly benign mantle of "global sisterhood" or "global citizenship" or some other similar ideal that blurs the ethnocentrism of their efforts. The first UN Women's Conference in 1975 is a well-known example of this conflict: many Third World participants took issue with the feminist manifesto drawn up by white American feminist Gloria Steinem, which had been touted as a common framework for action, but was crafted without input from Third World activists.


Tip #2: Place Yourself

After tucking away your personal ambitions and scaling back your ego to something both manageable and less offensive, the next step is to (re)locate yourself - to critically reconsider how your physical location in the United States, as well as your political, social, and economic contexts both inform your perspective as an activist and relate to the place and contexts of others. After all, solidarity isn't about pretending that borders don't exist, but about recognizing what those borders represent to you and to those with whom you seek to work. A good framework for "placing" oneself involves identifying sites of conflict and connection.

Identifying sites of conflict is about actively recognizing points of difference between you and those with whom you wish to collaborate. How are you and your collaborators differently privileged, and how might that impact the way you approach the work? To what sort of interests and outcomes do you feel personally attached, which might diverge significantly from those you wish to support? Identifying sites of connection, on the other hand, is about finding points of agreement/similarity and developing objectives that are broad enough so that all supporters and stakeholders can use their various resources most efficiently.


Tip #3: Do not marginalize your partners

Duh, right? Yeah, not so much. I'm probably more guilty of this one than most.

Some time ago, I received a rather large seed grant with which I started a nonprofit. The goal was to work in solidarity with a women's cooperative in a US-Mexican border town to create income generation programs for women in the area. Noble idea. Less than noble outcome.

Our relationship with the co-op was complicated. Not a single person on our leadership team spoke Spanish. As a result, communication between our team and the co-op was difficult, at best, and impossible most of the time. Given the communication barrier, an equally significant geographical barrier, and the time constraints of our grant, we were "forced" to make a number of decisions on behalf of the co-op - decisions that they may or may not have agreed with had they the opportunity to do so. In addition, when the cooperative members learned of the size of our grant, many of them (admittedly) felt 1) compelled to accept the decisions we made "in their best interests," and 2) impossibly indebted to us. While we earnestly wanted to "do good," our accidental paternalism got the best of us, and spread into other areas of our operation, including (but not limited to) deliberately keeping information from the cooperative, when we were worried they would disagree, not understand, or lose faith in us. As a result we were always on guard and seemingly always part of an uphill battle to gain their trust (which we never did earn completely). Needless to say, our little nonprofit didn't work out. I walked away less than a year into the project, when the leadership team refused to rectify what I saw as unethical practices and a modus operandi that violated the spirit of our mission.


Idealize This: Solidarity tipsheet