This work examines how June Jordan's poetry dedicated to solidarity is a pedagogical and epistemological framework in SOLHOTLex and in engaging Black girls around the interconnectedness of the occupation of Palestine and the genocide of Syrians under the Bashar Al Assad regime. It begins to answer the questions of how frameworks like womanism and postcolonial feminist theory inform engagement around solidarity in SOLHOTLex and organizing Black girls while examining what critical engagement and organizing looks like when the voices of Black girls are in symphony with the rest of the world's resistance struggles.
In her 1977 essay “The Creative Spirit: Children's Literature,” June Jordan asserts that love “will make manifest a peaceable order among us such that fear, conflict, competition, waste, and environmental sacrifice will have no place.”1 Jordan is a freedom architect with a type of visionary bravery that produced the fruits of the solidarity statements between Black and Palestinian people that have been created within the last few years. These statements have taken place online, in physical activist spaces, and have also occurred in the Black girl freedom space that is SOLHOTLex (a branch of the original SOLHOT). Created by Ruth Nicole Brown in Champaign, IL, Saving Our Lives Hearing Our Truths (SOLHOT) is a visionary freedom space where it is possible to “envision Black girlhood critically among and with Black girls, who, it seems to me, are often the people least guaranteed to be centered as valuable in collective work and social movements that they could very well lead and organize.”2
My space in the service of SOLHOTLex, to our world, to our foremothers is to do love labor that manifests material realities where Black girls can be not only synonymous with magic, fly, swag, and the wielding of revolutionary light; but also create freedom landscapes where we are the leaders of the justice movements that threaten our ability to love and live and essentially be free. Like Jordan—revolutionary, lover, mother, liberator, philosopher—I see the work of critically engaging Black girls around political solidarity and empire as a love pedagogy. The reality of our planet's penchant for greed and destruction has our bodies ill, soil pushing with poison, and labor around resolving genocide and oppression wrought with inertia and bureaucracy. The resolution of these maladies are our responsibilities, and in this work Jordan's political dedication to solidarity as well as her individual accountability to all of humanity informs the discussions of my own critical engagement with Black girls around notions of empire and oppression.
Jordan's revolutionary words were always in the heart center of “Love is lifeforce”3 and love housed all of her political light-work. We are their children, the daughters of bridge-builders who waded waist-deep in opaque waters risking life and limb—and most times, dying—to create an easier road to liberation than the one that was before them. This was love labor. I read Jordan's “Intifada Incantation” as a sorrowful love poem.4 This letter not only laments the love she asked for and what was given to her in return, but also shows the pain of generations of violent overtaking and genocide. I named this piece “Intifada Incantation #2” as a means of negotiating the privileges, complexities, and implications of Jordan's original “Intifada Incantation” as a Black, queer, woman living inside of empire; making clear the legacy of Black, queer, feminist political labor as the lifeblood and muscle of Black resistance as we know it; and signaling the continuation of the work of standing in solidarity with radical love and truth through SOLHOTLex. A type of historical line connects the courage of Jordan as one of the first Black, queer, American feminists to speak out about genocide against our Palestinian brothers and sisters at the hands of American and Israeli governments with the solidarity workshops I have led to engage Black girls in political solidarity with Palestinian and Syrian people. I also note the historical progression and new opportunity we have in this era of resistance as we continue the fight against occupation and settler colonialism: standing up against the genocidal regime of Bashar Al Assad who is responsible not only for the death of over 300,000 Syrians, but also for the displacement of over a million Syrians across the globe. In this we see the breadth of Jordan's work and the love labor of political solidarity that connects and affirms our various struggles.
INTIFADA INCANTATION #2: THIRTY YEARS LATER
I did not awake this morning to the deafening noise of sirens or the rocketing sound of nonstop bombs. I did not awake to the missiles that fall like rain from the sky, exploding on contact with land, staking out huge craters within the earth, collapsing people into buildings, trees into rubble, men into women, hands into feet, children into dust. Two thousand tons of aluminum in three hours. Forty-two air raids in one day. Twenty-seven thousand air raids in a decade. I did not awake this morning to the taste of desolation, not to the crusts of anger piled high from decades of neglect. I did not awake to the familiar smell of charred flesh, which sand storms use to announce the morning raid. I did not awaken in Basra to the familiar hunger, or grief for that matter, residual grief from the last twelve years that now has settled as a thick band of air everywhere. Breathing grief for a lifetime can be toxic. Breathing only grief simply kills. I did not awake in Fallujah, symbol of the post-election settlement wager: votes in exchange for bombs. I awoke this morning from a comfortable bed, avoiding the interminable queues for rations of fuel or food, because I have the privilege to choose to live, unlike many who have lost their lives in the insatiable service of imperialism.
What do lives of privilege look like in the midst of war and the inevitable violence that accompanies the building of empire? … [T]o consume an education that sanctions the academy's complicity in the exercise and normativization of state terror; to continue to believe in American democracy in the midst of an entanglement of state and corporate power that more resembles the practices of fascism than the practices of democracy; to believe that no matter how bad things are here they are worse elsewhere, so much so that undermining the promises of American democracy is an eminently more noble and therefore legitimate undertaking; more so than the undermining of democracy in any other place in the world.5
Negotiating the privileges of empire is not an impossible task, but the grooming that empire enacts onto the bodies of oppressed subjects creates a reactive individualism that can be witnessed—although not uniquely so—in working with Black girls. It is not surprising that an imperialist framework creates false comfort and refuge for people who are relegated to bare life or second-class citizenship. Thus, critical youth engagement requires a type of decolonial transnationalism and doing the work that M. Jacqui Alexander describes as challenging cultural relativism. Cultural relativism specifically refers to an ideology of neutrality that focuses on topical differences rather than centering critically around varying degrees of biases and cultural blindspots. We see this in absolutes, erasure, and essentialism around state narratives and the construction of those deemed as “terrorists” and “threats.”6 In the context to feminist coalition work around challenging oppressive structures, we see cultural relativism play out internally throughout history and in the dynamics between feminist discourse in the West and its erasure and replications of state imperialism in the lives of third-world feminists and those who are in various fights against oppression and repression abroad. In this analysis, I focus on the Western feminist as savior or rescuer.7
Western feminists use their positions inside of empire to have the final word and mark a general consensus on what is oppressive, liberating, progressive, and/or revolutionary, and the terms under which those things must be achieved and recognized. Most familiarly, we see this with the sentiments that Islam is inherently primitive and oppressive to women or that hijabs, niqabs, and burqas are also primitive and oppressive. Thus savior feminists become salient as it is their “job” to liberate Muslim women from Islam and Arab male patriarchy. What is self-centered and myopic about this perspective, outside of its outright racism is that it homes in on localized violence and extremism as the sole root of women's oppression and in turn, disappears the role of Western US-backed militarist violence and occupation in creating a sociopolitical climate that supports various forms of reactive extremisms. This view speaks over the voices of Muslim feminists in the given conflicts and physical spaces who are resisting and fighting against violence and oppression on their own terms in their own ways. These absolutist stances remove any sociopolitical nuances that might truly help those of us learning about the work and resistance of other women understand the unique political contexts in which these forms of resistance occur. For example,
Syrian women have been actively involved in almost every aspect of the Syrian uprising since its outbreak in March 2011. Yet, they remain underrepresented in the political sphere, their contributions discredited and their voices marginalized in the process of peacebuilding and decision-making in Syria. A group of Syrian women from all walks of political and social life sought to change that back in 2012, establishing the Syrian Women Coalition for Democracy.8
In citing this, I am thinking specifically about Syrian sisters who have had to work to be seen as legitimate partners in the revolution over the last five years, and the roles they have taken up to serve their people (and specifically women) in their individual spaces. Decolonial transnationalism is essential to solidarity and avoiding collapsing narratives and creating monoliths out of an entire people and struggle.9
More damning and insidious is that these absolutes create a a binary of us versus them: Either you support liberation (on the terms we have determined) or you are with the terrorists (the extinguishers of freedom and peace)! Instead, we should be listening to the voices of women in their struggles, seeking to stand in solidarity with them on their own terms. Dangerously, these absolutes demand we denounce violent extremism in a space where US militarist violence, intervention, and imperialist expansion are the only alternatives/solutions. This is not feminism or political solidarity, but rather a buy-in to the farce that is empire's promise of democracy and justice—with the threat of exploitation, subjugation, and total annihilation as penalties for refusing to be complicit.10 Focusing solidarity around the realities and limitations of empire in the lives of oppressed people relegated as bare life is also essential to understanding the routine silencing of Black girls. In the actual journey of Black girl freedom, the knowledge that we are not alone must be centered.
The year “Intifada Incantation” was written, Jordan was the subject of a political divide between liberal Western relativism and the undeniably less-supported feminists challenging empire. The issue: The Israeli Massacre of Sabra and Shatilah in 1982 and Israeli occupation and genocide of the indigenous Palestinian land and people. The divide occurred when Adrienne Rich, a friend of Jordan's and fellow feminist, signed an open letter penned by Vilde Chayes expressing their outrage for the rise of anti-Semitism following the Sabra and Shatilah Massacres. In the letter they assert that there is a need for historical contextualization for the Israeli Actions, but not the same for the Palestinians’—all while completely avoiding the topic of Israeli settlements and the ongoing violence and repression of Palestinians on their native land. In turn, this letter constructed the Israeli massacres at Sabra and Shatilah as odd and unexpected deviations from their peaceful, non-genocidal, or oppressive norm.11 This Zionist rhetoric was signed by many Jewish scholars and activists, and when Jordan saw Rich's signature, she took the opportunity to call for not only feminist accountability, but also national accountability for the role that American money and ignorance played in the loss of so many lives. On the subject of co-signing a political message and all of its implications, Jordan says:
I had not recently seen Adrienne [Rich] affix her name to so much as a poem or a petition regarding the evils embodied by South African, El Salvador, Nicaragua, nuclear armaments, ten percent unemployment, police violence in Black communities, and the resurrected compulsory military draft. Surely, then, her emergence outside the most narrowly conceived white “feminist” realm must announce a very welcome, and urgent, broadening of her feminist grasp of this real and scarified and unequal world. But did she in fact condemn that Israel campaign of massacre? Did she, in fact, identify the obvious nature of the Zionist state and its Anti-Palestinian goals? Did she in fact, mourn for the non-European victims of her, and my, money, and our American monies (7.2 million dollars a day) poured into Israel—a state smaller than the state of Connecticut? Did she, in fact, scream aloud for her people—the people she dares claim as her own—to stop the cluster bombs and the phosphorus burning of children and the mutilation of women and the devastation of homes and schools and hospitals, as the Israeli armed forces thrust themselves forward and forward and forwards into the ravaging agony of their creation? Did she, in fact, join the Israeli Peace Now dissidents who, as early as June 1982, bravely put their white bodies on the line against this massacre committed in their name? Did she, in fact, claim responsibility? She did not. Does she now, after Sabra and Shatilah, does she now claim responsibility? She does not… Does she tell you why the Palestinian people live and die in refugee camps? Why they can't “go home”?…. She does not.12
Jordan courageously points out this willful self-centeredness and violent inertia of the white feminist political positions around the genocide of non-white suffering. Additionally, she shows how white apathy and terrorism abroad translates to white apathy and terrorism domestically, which I think is a brilliant illumination of the issue of complicity in empire and the danger in the us–them dichotomy. Majority (white) consensus and stagnation around the violence of American empire does not translate into perfect domestic tranquility and peaceful racial coexistence within our national boundaries. The function of empire cannot protect those it does not recognize as fully human, and our non-white bodies (Black American, Palestinian, and Syrian alike) have been centuries-long deemed subhuman and inherently threatening to the safety and sustenance of white bodies and white power.
Jordan's courageousness and history of resistance against Zionism and American imperialism is essential not only to an organization founded by and on the labor of Black, queer feminists that is SOLHOT and SOLHOTLex, but also to critical engagement around solidarity with Black girls as a whole. The groomings of empire claim to create the security and promise of peace and liberty via its “democracy” rhetoric: If you are a patriot and care about the prosperity and power of your nation, then work hard and fight the terrorists who seek to threaten your freedom that our soldiers died for; in the end, you will be economically safe and have peace and tranquility and maybe even power by sitting at the table of globalization and neoliberalism. It is not true. Police violence in Black neighborhoods happens and is fueled by the same militarist machine that feeds Israel its billions. The criminalization of Black girls pushes them into the same prison–industrial complex into which Palestinians are funneled via prisons, checkpoints, and the apartheid wall built by G4S.13 The promise of boundless power and security within the walls of empire—or more dangerously, the alluring option of token, exemplar status for marginalized and otherwise disposable people—presents a paradoxical complicity with violent capitalist, imperialist, heteronormative, patriarchal dealings with the nation state. Thus, it is of the utmost importance in a revolutionary Black girl freedom framework that we always platform the pitfalls of empire and make clear the plans it has for us and the limits of our freedom(s) when we resist. Or more simply: empire cannot “save” you.
Cultural relativism's vise on mainstream discourse and political action in the West in turn creates a dominant national discourse that grooms us to see all oppressed bodies as what Hortense Spillers calls a type of “raw material.” She explains that “the history of black people was something you could use as a note of inspiration but it never had anything to do with you—you could never use it to explain something in theoretical terms.”14 This evokes language and labor around the construction of dangerous bodies. Alexander G. Weheliye meditates on bare life and biopolitics, noting specifically the contrast between the body and the flesh:
If the body represents legal personhood qua self-possession, then the flesh designates those dimensions of human life cleaved by the working together of depravation and deprivation. In order for this cruel ruse to succeed, however, subjects must be transformed into flesh before being granted the illusion of possessing a body.15
When discussing state violence, biopolitics reduces Black and brown flesh to hazardous material rather than humans. Or more plainly, by said body's very existence, its qualities are inherently threatening to the nation and its demands for hegemony (or whiteness). The following three examples illustrate the political–theoretical divide; their humanity was dismissed, and the de-centering of violence, criminalization, and exploitation of these Palestinian, Black American, and Syrian bodies took a backseat to the mainstream usage of their literal flesh.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, was kidnapped from in front of a mosque in Occupied Palestine by Israeli settlers in the summer 2014. His heinous murder was one among many Palestinian lives that were swallowed by the violence that summer as the Israeli government waged a siege over the Gaza Strip. Khdeir was beaten, forced to swallow gasoline, and set on fire. His remains were dumped in a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The autopsy results determined that his lungs contained soot deposits, meaning that he was alive and breathing while he was on fire. Khdeir was burned alive,16 but his murder specifically was reported as part of a string of violence perpetrated on Palestinians that summer—including three Palestinian boys who were gunned down by Israeli police while playing soccer on a beach. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a statement reporting that one child was murdered in Gaza every hour for the two days at the apex of the Israeli assault.17
Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old Black girl, was murdered outside of a Detroit, MI, suburb by Ted Waifer. She had knocked on Waifer's door to ask for assistance after a car accident. She was shot in the face. Waifer was not arrested that night and was not charged with any crime; he walked free and it was not until great national protest and uprising that he was even arrested. Before the trial proceedings, it was not about the actions, motivations, or even dealings of Waifer; instead McBride's body was put on trial. Her corpse, criminal record, and alcohol and marijuana levels in her blood/autopsy were cross-examined by the media and put forth as reasons she deserved to die. Conversations about respectability and what she should have been drinking or doing that night were at the forefront rather than the fact that an unarmed girl seeking assistance was shot in the face by a white man who reportedly feared for his life by her mere presence at his door.
Alan Kurdi, a 2-year-old Syrian refugee whose body washed onto the shores of a Turkish beach in September 2014, became a literal symbol of the Syrian refugee crisis. His family, like thousands of other Syrian families fleeing Assad's genocidal regime, took to rubber boats, floating out across the harsh Mediterranean Sea to find refuge in nearby Turkey. Tragically, the boat—like many of the other flimsy rubber boats routinely carrying Syrians—capsized, drowning many passengers including 2-year-old Kurdi. Images of his corpse were plastered all over global newspapers and across the Internet for months following the tragedy. His small corpse became a raw material that fueled Western guilt and the aforementioned interventionist savior complex pushed for an American invasion of Syria.
In these three instances, the flesh—the bare life of marked bodies—shines out in the discourse while settler colonialist violence, state-sanctioned white supremacist violence, and Assad take the political backseat. We shy away from a summer-long siege during which one Palestinian child was murdered every hour for two days at the apex of the attack. We ask about alcohol and marijuana levels in McBride's body and how hard she knocked on a door. We talk about Hamas while constructing a dual-sided conflict that makes a criminal, genocidal, nation holy and Palestinians a myth or roadblock to their ideal state. Decolonial transnationalism connects our struggles and shows that our bodies become the raw material that fuels propaganda, revisionism, and the track-covering of empire.
DISRUPTING THE COMPETENCE MODEL OF SOLIDARITY
In 2014 I sat with my sister and comrade Banah Ghadbian on a beach in the American colony of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Ironically, we were escaping a conference on decoloniality and feminist transgressions. We had listened to Angela Davis speak on political solidarity work between Boricuas, Black Americans, and Palestinians being one of the spiritually sustaining points of her time incarcerated as a political prisoner. On that beach, we traded our shared heartbreaks about the political reciprocity in our respective communities. On that beach, the two of us bound by diaspora, watched the waves carrying frockling mamas and babies. She says to me that she is most frustrated with leftist solidarity politics that center self-appointed outsider expertise of the Syrian revolution rather than standing with and centering the voices of Syrian people: “Everyone thinks that we did this to ourselves and that they have the answers. That they know better than us. It's like ‘we'll stand with you if…’ Like no. On our terms.” As her brow furrows, the tide creeps up the shore and tickles a Black Boricua baby's toes as he toddles and bounces next to his mama at the shoreline. She calls after him “Ven! Ven! (come, come)” The seemingly ancient ocean stretches out underneath the hulking tourist towers, bars, complexes, hotels, shops.
I think of how many of us have been offered conditional support after calling for our human counterparts to stand with us. Ghadbian's words “on our own terms” resonated with me, calling me to come think about how, for Black women and girls, the crisis of danger and political apathy creates and has created space for progressive scholars, philanthropists, and demographic plot fetishists to deem themselves the spokespeople for Black girls, their stories, and their political destinies to the point of pathology and obsession. They often clamor around the sociopolitical capital that participating in an on-trend discourse around Black girlhood or Black Girl Magic gives them while monopolizing the attention and excluding Black girls from the conversation altogether. These offers of conditional support, engagement, solidarity, and affirmation all hinge on Black girls’ ability or willingness to perform as respectable, worthy, civic-minded (code for empire-sympathizing and performed or embodied patriotism) subjects who will have to demonstrate their promise, potential, and gratitude. Or, by fact of their lack of resources and belonging to a community exploited and targeted by empire, they should be not only willing, but also eager to construct their identities by constantly divulging the most personal and triggering aspects of their social, economic, sexual, and political lives.
In the political arena of transnational engagement, we see this with the fetishization of war and conflict trauma. In this, leftists devour stories of dehumanization, depraved acts of gendered and racialized violence, and set up a culture around the consumption of violence as a means of extending solidarity or feeling the other's pain to replace material action and political vigilance. These exploitations of each other's suffering and prioritization of our own inertia shrouds political strip mining as solidarity, or what neoliberal diversity initiatives would call “cultural competence.” In the practice of cultural competence, outside agents act as experts, working and speaking directly to/for people in spaces they are not from, thus decentering the ability of the people in their own communities to speak on behalf of themselves for whatever it is they need. Outsiders cannot truly be experts about spaces they are not of; rather, they must act as bridges for the people with whom they seek to stand and bear witness without the paternalist interventions.
THE METHODOLOGY OF BLACK GIRL INTERNATIONALISM
From a pedagogical standpoint, critical engagement works more efficiently when it is attempted from an abundance position rather than from the seemingly impossible deficit position. Although it is tempting to approach all engagement with Black children in their exploited and underserved communities from a deficit standpoint, when addressing ways of teaching, it helps to localize violence and oppression. Consider that Black girls (and most Black children)—via policing, white supremacy, state-sanctioned violence against their bodies, or state apparatuses such as schools, hospitals, and foster care—have clear conceptualizations of the structures to which they are at mercy. By localizing, I mean that it is necessary to cultivate an environment where participants share experiences around policing and are able to, at a base level, express their frustrations with lack of power and autonomy. In our conversations, the checkpoint system in Palestine was localized with discussions about school dress codes and stop-and-frisk practices in neighborhoods (wherein police would ask them where they were going and just handcuff and search them for no reason other than being Black children). These are not adults—at times the preliminary work of establishing a shared experience of policing requires starting small. When engaging girls from ages 4 to 12 years old, one must assume that everyone's critical consciousness is present. However, it is more productive to ignite those things amongst children in simpler ways that allow room for building up of more complicated ideas and vocabulary.
During a SOLHOTLex workshop, we made protest and solidarity art with the girls while engaging in a conversation about school policing. TiTi made a sign that said “Syria is real” spelled out in block letters, alternating colors, and adorned with flowers, hearts, and a type of warm/cool organic patterning. Throughout the workshop, TiTi had been working quietly on her solidarity message, and there was a moment when I had pause about her reservation—Black girl fatigue or spiritual reservation. After a long day in an educational panopticon, quietness can be a sort of self-preservation reaction to being challenged, spiritually battered, and worn down. I proceeded with the workshop as planned, despite not being met with the normal chatter and volume that fills the room. In the oddly quiet room, I began writing words on the whiteboard for spelling reference: Syria, Genocide, Palestine, Freedom. As I turned to face the group of heads-on-tables, quiet snacking, and checked-out stares into phones, I noticed TiTi come in with a few of her friends and sit down without saying much. Usually, TiTi and I hug each other and we talk about her life, her boyfriend, whoever is getting on her nerves, “finna get snuck” that week, and she asks me what we are doing.
“We finna talk about Palestine and Syria today.”
“Eh, tru, but we gonna talk about other stuff”
“Like genocide and stuff, we'll get there tho!”
“Like when people in charge decide to start killing a large group of people of the same group because they don't think their life is worth anything and they think they are better than them. There's more to it than that really but—”
“They do that to Black people.”
As Titi joins her friends and I look at the eight girls at the table, it becomes clearer and clearer that the girls are tired and not really feeling it. We Check-In, and through that process some of the girls reveal they are having a bad day, bored, or tired and bummed out that it is raining.
The first question I pose to the girls is about power. “Y'all ever had an experience when an adult or someone who was ‘in charge’ abused their power? Like a teacher? The police? An adult?”
They nod and a group of girls all look at each other in sequence and say, “Ms. King.”
“Who's Ms. King?”
One of the girls sucks her teeth. “An annoying teacher who always tryna get people in trouble.”
“True, what does she do?”
“Okay! So everybody will be talkin’ in the hallway. But she always calls me out like ‘Ummmm! This is not a stable! You do not need to neigh!’”
Her friends all sucking their teeth and blowing air in their Black girl solidarity with her, one interjects, “She got me written up when I went to the bathroom after she said I couldn't go. But I told her it's an emergency and she was like ‘I don't care’ but was letting other people go. So what I look like? I'm not finna pee on myself so I just went anyway and she was all like ‘You left the room without permission that's an immediate referral.’”
The conversation continues around administration coming down on them harshly about dress-code infractions and actively antagonizing them around their volume. Adding up how referrals and in-school suspensions lead to larger punishments, they all begin to buzz about their bodies being policed. “What about bigger? Like the police? We talked about the police last week and it came up that they always bothering us in our neighborhood. Are they bothering all of the new people?”18
“Nah, I've never seen that. Yeah… the police drove up beside me and my friends and asked us where we was going.”
TiTi chimes in: “Yeah like they always be around, they know we live here tho! What, I'm posed to be like ‘I'm going to [moves her arms in a big circle] MY SPOT?? [sucks her teeth] Boi you know who I AM!”
Thus, localizing is an important pedagogical tool because it allows the person attempting to engage with people who are deemed political others to be able to drop into the moment. Rejecting the competence model that cultivates political mastery as a possibility, localizing shifts the priority from acquiring skills to starting with the self—seeing the self as a part of a bigger picture of people who are not as different and disposable as empire would say they are. Dropping in this way and localizing from micro to macro may seem tedious and unnecessary, but remember all of the grooming and signals that our children take on daily.
During TiTi's description of this process of racial profiling and policing, most of the girls are able to understand and begin to conceptualize the checkpoint system imposed on Palestinians in apartheid Israel, systems of law enforcement enacting subordination, humiliation for sport, arrests for dissent, or criminalization of demands for dignity and humane treatment. For these girls, military terrorization in Syria under the Assad regime is not so alien when it is localized within the context of government-sanctioned police violence in their own lives. In SOLHOTLex, this understanding is further strengthened by engaging in conversations and protest art workshops about the reach of the prison–industrial complex and #sayhername. During these sessions, homegirls talk to the girls about some of the stories of Black women and girls who were killed by the police and why they were murdered, and then open the floor for discussion of their feelings about being in a targeted and overlooked demographic within an already-neglected demographic and what that means for justice for them. As a vocalizing exercise, we make protest signs and art about our feelings of injustice.
Protest art is a tool that is particularly useful for political engagement with solidarity because it is safe. Girls who are used to being punished for dissent of any kind initially avoid saying much of anything about their opinions. This is for a combination of reasons, but mainly because no one has high regards for their political insights. Exercises such as protest art not only flex the muscle of opinion-forming, but also give girls who are not comfortable expressing opposition a space to say what they feel about themselves and the world around them in their own way(s) without it being graded, displayed, or scrutinized or even favored over their peers’ work.
The goal when engaging with different age groups about political solidarity is to strip away, piece by piece, the imperialist perspective of us–them when thinking of people who are affected by the reach of US imperialism and militarism. This is done slowly, by affirming and supporting that we, Black Americans, are also political others who are contained, surveilled, and restricted just by virtue of our non-white status. Cultivating solidarity as a bodily, cultural function that is an extension of one's desire for freedom for self should be the aim. When done right, solidarity is not a cash cow for academics and public intellectuals, but rather a network of love and vigilance that moves us closer to our goals of freedom—on our own terms.