Want To Show Your Solidarity With Victims? Then Actually Take Action
I have spent the past week watching my social media feeds flood with outrage and contempt for the Stanford rapist, Brock Allen Turner. I have watched as the 24-hour news cycle gleefully found innumerate ways to generate increasingly outlandish articles about him, about his anonymous victim, about their respective families. The news, which began with a harrowing and powerful impact statement written by Turner’s anonymous victim and published by Buzzfeed, degenerated to the point of ludicrousness. And as the media chewed over the body of the Stanford victim, Brock Turner emerged like some mythical monster, ready to be slain.
And then I woke up to another atrocity, another nightmare, more bodies on the political pyre that will be used to further agendas. I woke up to one of the worst mass shootings in the history of the United States, a violence perpetuated against queer people, primarily queer people of color. Now I will spend the next week watching those bodies be dissected and examined. I will watch as people speculate, share, and like. I will watch as the sad face emojis outnumber the dead by hundreds of thousands.
There is nothing wrong with expressing grief, anger, and outrage. Grieve. Be angry. These emotions are necessary, and they can be the fuel that ignites real and vital change. Many of us take to social media because it is the way we share and exchange news; the way we forge community in the digital space as our real-world havens are violated and burned to the ground.
But before you share that article, before you change your profile picture, ask yourself: What else will you do? What else have you done?
It is easy to express horror and outrage in the face of a national tragedy. It is easy to grieve publicly when 50 innocent people have been gunned down, when media outlets around the globe are showing you their bodies and their devastated families. It is easy to stand behind that grief with the support of our friends, politicians, celebrities, and community leaders. That grief is sanctioned. That outrage has been approved. We are not risking anything.
For the past week I watched as almost every person on my Facebook feed shared at least one article about the Stanford rapist. I watched people in my community — people who had failed to advocate for me, for my rape — talk about solidarity and believing women. When I spoke about my abuse to a teacher at the yoga studio where my ex-husband, my rapist, was employed, I was essentially told, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” I told her I was concerned for the safety of the women my rapist may interact with. This teacher — supposedly an advocate for women and survivors — took no action. She offered private platitudes while publicly remaining his friend. This happened again and again, with friends, acquaintances, community members. In private, people expressed their sorrow and commiseration. In public, it was too difficult and messy to stand with me. After he followed me into a women’s restroom in a busy nightclub — after I emerged incoherent and crying, barely able to stand — a close friend walked me to my car, then returned to share a drink with him.
Over the past few years I have seen so-called progressive people resolutely refuse to take action in their day to day lives, and so-called safe spaces continue to harbor and protect rapists, abusers, and bigots while simultaneously preaching an ethos of tolerance, love, and solidarity. After allegations of abuse came to light regarding a prominent writer and publisher in the independent poetry community, for instance, his “feminist” supporters continued to stand behind him. And the literary community continues to rally around Thomas Sayers Ellis, the visiting Iowa professor accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse and misconduct. These are progressive, educated spaces — “feminist” spaces that are supposedly safe for women. These are only the most recent incidents that come to mind.
Ask any woman, any queer person, any person of color, whether they know of violence being harbored and protected in their communities. They will tell you yes. They will tell you how nowhere is truly safe when people refuse to make uncomfortable decisions, when people refuse to speak.
Let me tell you about your solidarity: It means nothing if it is issued only after the fact. After a conviction. After a mass murder. After the camera is switched on.
The media has granted us access to these publicized atrocities while allowing us to remain comfortably removed from them. We are not called upon to make any hard decisions, beyond selecting which headline we feel most aligns with our own sentiments. We risk nothing.
It is easy to be swept up in the momentum of these horrors, to lose ourselves in the vortex of polarizing headlines. But at the end of the day, it matters very little what the politicians have to say. They will use these bodies as a stepping stone as they have countless times before. And we will be outraged. And we will share tweets. What does it matter? What does it change?
There are practical things we can do in our daily lives to support and stand with the oppressed before they become bodies sacrificed to the news cycle. They do not have to be big things, though your blood can help save lives and your money can help support grieving families. It can be as small as reaching out to a friend to ask are you ok? As small as believing their testimony. As small as listening without judgement. It can be confronting a racist relative or intervening when you see a stranger in need. No matter what, it should be about building a real community that immunizes itself against terror by refusing to harbor monsters out of fear. Terror comes in many forms and thrives on our desire to follow the herd, to not make a fuss. It survives by isolating us from one another.
Stop waiting until the story breaks. Stop waiting until you feel safe to stand up. Expressing solidarity is not supposed to be easy. It is challenging. It is terrifying. It calls upon us to make difficult decisions, to risk our alliances, our careers, our reputations — perhaps even our bodies — on behalf of others. Not because we have something to gain, but because it is the right thing to do.
All around me I see queer people, abused people, people of color, expressing these same sentiments: that when they needed you, you weren’t there. Because there is no commemorative graphic for the queer person found burned in a car in New Orleans East. There are no celebrity tweets about the daily abuse and fear suffered by my Islamic friends. There is no headline about my rape.
Virtual solidarity can be powerful. Twitter was and is a vital component of #BlackLivesMatter, Facebook groups exists as digital safe spaces, and backchannel discussions on gchat save lives. But it is not enough to cry over bodies post-facto. It is not enough to condemn “monsters.”
So often when we talk about tragedy, we are asked to imagine the victims as ours: What if it had been your brother dancing at Pulse that night? What if it had been your sister or your daughter washing pine needles from her hair in a clinical hospital bathroom?
Make no mistake: Your brothers are dying. Your sisters are broken. You do not need to own these victims — they are already yours. We need to start looking for the monsters in our own backyard, owning the tyrants and extremists and bigots in our communities. Do not ask “What if Emily Doe had been your sister?” Ask: What if Omar Mateen had been your son? Do not ask “What if Eddie Jamoldroy Justice had been your brother?” Ask: What if Brock Turner were your husband, your lover?
You do not need a monster to be somebody’s hero. The violences that hit the mainstream media every day are not tragic because they are exceptional, they’re tragic because they have become a routine. Abuse and hatred are so embedded in our culture that in just over a week, those of us not directly impacted will have forgotten and moved on, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to show our solidarity.
The actions you take in your day to day lives matter. Whether you speak up or stay silent. Whether you step in. Whether you take a stand.
Don’t wait for a body count.
You can make a difference — even if you don’t make the headlines.
Lead image: Public Domain