The word weary has floated to the surface of my soul over the past year and a half. Solange’s song of the same name is a regular pick on my Spotify. “I’m weary of the ways of the world,” she sings. “I’m gonna look for my body. I’ll be back real soon.” And all I can think about is how nice it would be to float above all of these problems, to just exist.
With each new headline, each of my identities is becoming more salient than ever before. I’ve felt both attacked and amused by men who hide behind tiki torches (really, guys?) and hateful ideologies. I’ve experienced movements that empower me as a woman while simultaneously diminishing my blackness. I’ve heard outrage that seems comical and observed silence that cuts to the bone. Society constantly asks me to choose one identity over the others, and I am exhausted by the weight of it all.
Still I keep scrolling, and listening, and reading, and consuming—until I am I tired bundle of apathy and distrust. Concepts like advocacy and solidarity appear to be nothing more than buzzwords that merit a pat on the back when used. I had trouble believing they actually existed in practice.
It was in the midst of this pessimistic phase that I saw solidarity in action. The night felt like summer even though it was fall, and I was wearing my husband’s flannel because part of me wanted it to be an autumnal evening. We built a bonfire in my friend’s backyard as an extension of a wedding celebration that ended a couple of hours before. I chatted with old and new friends, and my husband seemed to be making a new connection of his own.
I stopped by their corner of the porch to say hello after they’d been chatting for about a half an hour. I don’t remember all the details, but somehow the conversation moved from the personal to the political to the straight up bigoted. I was talking in real life to someone from the comments sections that my husband urges me to avoid.
After a certain point in the conversation, I headed into the kitchen to grab some water and to gather my thoughts. I mentioned the increasing awkwardness of the situation to a few of the other guests. And they showed up on the porch within a couple of minutes. They came with big hearts and open-ended questions, ready to engage with the situation that had overwhelmed me.
I was so paralyzed that the only thing I knew to do was go back to the kitchen, sit on the floor, and pet the dog. Minutes later, he was walking through kitchen and out the front door. He’d been politely asked to leave.
The rest of the night included a glass of wine, a hushed conversation with my husband in the corner of the backyard, and a rekindled hope in the concepts of solidarity and allyship.
Standing in solidarity as an ally is one of the most simple and most difficult roles that any of us can hold.
It will always be easier to look the other way, to giggle at the off color joke, or to not engage with problematic elements of a conversation. We will always want to choose apathy over justice, but that is not how we build a better world.
I’ve continued to mull over that moment on my friend’s back porch. Each time, I glean a fresh lesson and another reason to be thankful. Those guests’ displays of solidarity had a few key elements that I think are worth sharing.
They didn’t wait to be asked
I did shoot a few desperate looks across the porch, but I don’t remember asking for help. People heard about the situation or saw for themselves. Their first reaction was be physically present with me and to present in the conversation.
They spoke for themselves while advocating for me
I often think of an ally or an advocate as someone who speaks for someone else. What was powerful about this moment of solidarity was that each person spoke for his or herself. They were upfront about their inability to fully understand my experience and, instead, centered the conversation around facts or their own lived experiences.
They asked good questions
Even though I reacted violently to the situation, the conversation itself was quite civil. My allies met assumptions with questions—and then more questions. It’s possible to disagree and to still actively listen. In fact, I think it’s moments of being heard by the opposing side that plant that seeds that eventually change hearts and minds.
They drew a line
There was a point where the conversation became more harmful than helpful. Sometimes standing in solidarity means saying that certain behavior isn’t welcome in a space. I felt an immediate relief when I watched that man walk out the front door, and I felt like my whole being was accepted in a space for the first time in a while.
I want everyone that I encounter to experience that feeling of safety and acceptance. I know that allyship and solidarity exist. They are actionable. They don’t require us to wear safety pins or to use a certain hashtag. They require us to show up, to speak up, and to build one another up in action and in truth.