solidarity with other poc shouldn’t result in the erasure of black people’s specific issues

April 26, 2017

Merriam-Webster defines solidarity as “unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards.” The term is often used in social justice spaces to highlight the necessity of a mass movement–a coalition across diverse communities to combat the interlocking systems of oppressive violence against marginalized people.

The necessity of such a mass movement, especially in the Trump era, is not understated. Many times, however, what this community of interests, objectives, and standards entails isn’t stated at all, what to speak of comprehensively. For the sake of “solidarity,” it is quite often taken as a given that Black people and others at the intersections of communities should put their own well-being at risk to ensure cohesion between the group. In order for “unity,” Black people are expected to blend in seamlessly with the larger umbrella of “people of color,” effectively erasing the specific forms of violence against them by both white people and non-Black people of color alike.

This dynamic was especially evident in the recent Shae Moisture commercial controversy and their subsequent apology. After gaining prominence on the backs and support of Black women and femmes underserved by the industry, Sundial, the company that owns Shae Moisture, decided they wanted to #BreakTheWalls between Black haircare and mainstream products.

They planned to achieve this ostensibly admirable feat of unity by adopting a marketing push that was “not only multicultural but cross-cultural: Rather than explicitly targeting black women, the company (would sell) items that can treat a broad range of conditions—from acne to eczema to frizzy hair—that transcend race.” This push was epitomized by a remarkably tone-deaf ad in which no doubtlessly Black women and three white women spent a full minute complaining about the “hair hate” they received, thanking Shae Moisture for being there and finally making them feel beautiful:

After the overwhelming backlash by the Black women and femmes, who made the company what it was only to have their very different and much more prominent experiences with hair hate overlooked and swept aside for the sake of breaking down walls, the company posted an apology on their Facebook page. Yet again, however, there was no mention of Black women, even as the company insisted on being “keenly aware of the journey that WOC (Women of Color) face”:

Though it’s true that women of color face many issues in a white supremacist society, what is undeniable is that Black women face specific issues–issues such as the ones they took umbrage with in the commercial–a special kind of disregard and dehumanization. The problem wasn’t a lack of acknowledgment of the journey “women of color” face, but the journey that Black women face. In fact, one of the models in the ad was either a very light-skinned Black woman or some other kind of woman of color. But having so committed to this idea of a “cross-cultural” movement at the expense of Black people they were falsely told was so admirable, Sundial could only repeat its anti-Black fuck ups in its apology.

As Kejhonti Neloms explains, the ad was a prime example of how, under free-market capitalism, “Black People Can’t Have Nothing Nice and For Themselves, lest reverse racism.” This is because anti-Black structures funnel money out of Black communities and into those that cherish their distance from Blackness. Capitalizing on the market, then, means ensuring your advertising doesn’t make the masses think your product is only for Black people.

And in a society in which much of social activism is funded by non-profits who are also sustained by capitalism, similar rules apply. This is why so much activism actively embraces the erasure of Blackness deemed necessary for “solidarity” to appeal to the masses. But capitalistic thinking isn’t the only way to operate. The difficult but necessary task is to develop ways to challenge anti-Blackness rather than bargain with it. Goals shared with Black people cannot be achieved unless anti-Blackness is addressed head on, and so any other way of defining shared community, even when masked with the label “POC,” is false.

Rather than succumb to the violent reality that Blackness isn’t profitable, we should follow in the footsteps of the Black women who took on Shae Moisture, and commit to changing what profitability means. “Black” shouldn’t be a dirty word, and, at some point, Black lives should become worth more than green dollars and non-Black allies. In that liberatory moment, rather than asking Black folks to sacrifice their comfort and safety for the sake of a coalition, we would be vitally demanding everyone reckon with the disregard and dehumanization of Black people that so much of the interlocking systems of violence we accurately recognize as the enemy is predicated upon.

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.