The traditionalist concept of solidarity is based on relatedness. I am loyal to members of my family because I am related to them through ties of kinship. There is a solidarity between myself and my coethnics because we are related to each other through ties of ancestry, history, culture and language.
Is there a solidarity between myself and someone I have never met who lives in Nepal? Yes, there is as we share a common humanity, but the degree of relatedness is not as close as it is to, say, my brother, and so my loyalty to my brother is naturally stronger and more immediate.
The leftist concept of solidarity is the opposite to this. The leftist idea is that we identify not with those we are most closely related to, but with those who are most "other" to us, particularly with the most marginalised or oppressed "other".
But can this really create a genuine form of solidarity? I want to give a concrete example of how the leftist understanding of solidarity fails.
There has been an argument happening on the Facebook page of the University of Sydney women's collective. It seems that some of the "women of colour" are upset at seeing some white girls wear a bindi (the decorative dot worn on the forehead). They are calling it cultural appropriation.
My understanding is that the bindi is not really considered a sacred religious symbol in Asia but is worn for decorative purposes by a range of people, so I don't think there's a lot of merit to the claim of cultural appropriation.
But what's interesting is the way that the argument has unfolded. The women of colour are pulling rank over the white feminists on the basis that they are the more marginalised and "othered" group. Here's a typical comment from one of the women of colour:
As long as the majority of wom*n who actively participate in the wom*ns collective are white, it is not a safe space for wom*n of colour. most of the wom*n i meet who are exclusively involved with women's collective have little to no knowledge of the way racial oppression operates especially in australia and i don't count on them to be sympathetic or productive allies. white wom*n: it is YOUR JOB TO EDUCATE YOURSELF. and the best way to educate yourself is by listening. i if you want your feminism to be intersectional you can't just say "im intersectional". you have to work to unlearn these ways of thinking that place your precious whiteness... above other people's experiences. my anger is legitimate. and i am angry at the laziness of white feminism. i am angry at the refusal to step outside of the issues that directly affect you. i am angry at the lack of empathy. don't count on being educated by wom*n of colour if you're going to have a whinge about how angry they are. it only goes to show that you TRULY do not understand."
Leftist solidarity ends up meaning that the white feminists are expected to lose moral status in the argument and to listen passively whilst they are educated by the women of colour.
There is an insistence by many in the debate that feminism be "intersectional." That seems to mean that there are intersecting relationships of privilege and oppression having to do with gender, race, sexuality, disability and so on. So there is a complex pattern of who gets to claim moral status and who loses standing, depending on an attribute such as race, gender identity or sexuality.
There is, in other words, a complex pattern of division and disunity. Instead of a sense of solidarity, there is a focus on how some within a group oppress others and the guilt and anger that is thought to be the right response to this.
To try to keep a sense of solidarity with the feminists of colour, this is the attitude one of the white feminists took:
whenever I'm trying to cycle through my immediate gut reaction to white skin privilege, which is guilt and then getting defensive about how I'm a bit better than some real bad racists, I remember a really good people of colour-facilitated talk I sat in on....
Solidarity isn't meant to be as miserable as this. It isn't meant to be a lifelong sentence of guilt, defensiveness and subservience.
And what of the feminists of colour? This is what they think of the white women of the sisterhood:
DB: Racist girls expecting those that they oppress to ask nicely for their rights, to hold their hand and walk them through their racism while they still comfortably sit on the throne of privilege. Nice try... really cute.
TC: Hell no, how bout they kiss the brownest part of our asses and watch the big girls do feminism. The most radical thing they've done since the 70's is take off their tops for Femen.
The feminists of colour are claiming that white feminists are privileged racists who oppress them and who need to be replaced and re-educated by women like themselves.
It's not a very impressive kind of solidarity and the problem goes back to the way that solidarity itself is conceived.