I am not Malala/Trayvon: On Solidarity Movements & the Problem with Calls to Action

We do not need to be Trayvon Martin or Malala Yousafzai, or a part of their communities, in order to understand that what was done to them was an abomination. Photo courtesy of MPR News.

Written by Sal Bhakuni

As our society becomes more polarized and divisive, now more than ever, it is important to show solidarity with our peers and colleagues who are becoming increasingly marginalized. While demonstrating our distaste with current political processes and decisions is certainly a great way to get politically involved, there are numerous problems with the solidarity movements of today.

After young Black student Trayvon Martin was murdered in broad daylight by a member of his own community, members of the community at-large introduced the ‘I too am Trayvon’ solidarity movement.  At a surface level, while solidarity movements like ‘I too am Trayvon’, seem good, the message of this movement and similar ones, continue to be co-opted by other communities who dilute the message. The fact of the matter is that we are not all Trayvon Martin, just as much as we are not all Malala Yousafzai.

Regardless of whether we are included in the in-group or not, the concept of solidarity is rooted in our mutual agreement to be unified under a single cause because of our understanding of this cause.. Unfortunately, modern solidarity movements, while well-meaning, when co-opted by members of the out-group claiming they are part of the in-group, actually do more harm than good in the long-run. I am not Malala or Trayvon, I am neither a young Muslim female student growing up in a war-torn Pakistan, nor am I a Black teen growing in high-crime neighborhood in Florida, and therefore, I do not navigate the world the same way as they do. For me to say ‘I too am Trayvon/Malala’ is to equate my experiences to theirs, which is simply not the case. The way in which I interact with the world and make my decisions both subconsciously and consciously, is not informed in the same way as are theirs. We are different people with different experiences, different lives, and different realities and that is okay.

The whole premise of solidarity movements and allyship is that we do not need to be a member of an oppressed in order to recognize their marginalization, rather we can stand in solidarity, or be an ally, simply by acknowledging the injustices they face. We do not need to be Trayvon Martin or Malala Yousafzai, or a part of their communities, in order to understand that what was done to them was an abomination. We do not need to be them in order to understand that police brutality of Black people is real, or that western intervention in the Middle East lead to situations like Malala’s. Moreover, as identity politics teaches us, while we may share similar experiences as members of various communities, our navigation of those identities contextually varies depending on our circumstances.

When we do co-opt solidarity movements in such a way, we trivialize the experiences of those who actually live in these circumstances and perpetuate misunderstandings in the way in which these groups suffer. Though well-intentioned, we may actually end up doing more harm than good by equating our experiences to one another’s. Different groups are hurt at different levels by violent policies, xenophobic institutions, and prejudiced dogmas. We can show our support for other communities without co-opting their movements by leading them with slogans ‘I too am…” when we are not. The liberation of marginalized peoples won’t come from a equitable society, rather a just one in which we are protective of our commonalities, yet cognizant of our differences.

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