There is something slightly off about this most recent breast cancer “post” everyone is sharing on Facebook. You know the one, this one. It’s about a woman who’s ten or so friends shaved their heads bald for and surprised her, all at once. I can’t quite exactly pin my finger on why the constant sharing of this video is unnerving, but every time I see it on Facebook I kind of wrinkle up my nose and roll my eyes.
Noticing the amount of eye-rolling I was doing every time a Facebook friend shared this thing, I started to wonder if I was jealous? Was I jealous because my friends didn’t all shave their heads at once for me? No, not really. It might actually be kind of weird if my friends did that. Or maybe not, maybe it’d be totally awesome. I don’t know. That wasn’t it, though, the reason I was so annoyed. Someone told me people sometimes shave their heads to be “in solidarity.” Then I remembered a conversation I had with one of my closest friends, about solidarity. That was it.
Gerdi’s friends say they realized that shaving their heads was the least they could do, and that they learned hair didn’t matter. Umm. Ok. I wonder how actually shaving your head actually does something for Gerdi, or for breast cancer? Enter this whole “solidarity” thing. Of course, shaving their heads doesn’t make them “feel” what Gerdi feels, and I imagine they know that. So, they were in solidarity.
Except Gerdi wasn’t there with them. The video shows them shaving their heads, to later surprise her. They were in solidarity but they forgot to get Gerdi’s consent to be in solidarity with her. The head-shaving was about them, not about their friend Gerdi with breast cancer.
Being in solidarity with someone or with a community requires partnership. Conversation. Ongoing consent.You don’t get to just pick someone or some cause or something and be in solidarity. It’s an ongoing, negotiated relationship with the people/person/thing/community with which you are in solidarity. I am certain we have feminists of color and those writing about advocacy and ally-ship to look to for advice, insight, scholarship, experience about this particular relationship. Solidarity isn’t something you get to do to someone else, especially when you claim solidarity without discussing, including, negotiating with who ever you are in solidarity with, in an ongoing way. You don’t get to decide to be in solidarity: you get invited to participate precisely because you can check your own privilege and own up to the times you f*ck up, because you will, and that is OK. Being in solidarity is a privilege, and claiming solidarity without a negotiated relationship is seriously disempowering, invisible-izing, and even hurtful to the community of people you are “in solidarity” with.
The sharing and re-sharing of this video seems to say, “I am sharing this, and this is my act of solidarity, too.” And yet, no one asked. Sharing doesn’t imply actual engagement with breast cancer, or those of us who have it. It merely is a contribution to an over-saturated communicative environment where sharing this video shows a kind of awareness, a softness, a sweet hopefulness about cancer. Ya know? And this thing gets shared without any relationship to the actual community of people living with breast cancer. When someone shares this video, they are situated as caring, aware, oh gawd, even “in solidarity.” They get to be part of/in solidarity with/sympathetic to the cancer community, and sharing lets you do it without any engagement with the actual cancer community. That is what irks me so about this video and the way it is traveling rapidly through my networks.
So again, it’s not the video. It’s the way it moves. And if you want to be in solidarity with someone, anyone, something, somewhere, some issue, then get close to that community, know that community, ask to support that community, deal with f*cks ups between yourself and that community, actually engage with that community.
And then maybe you can be in solidarity.