The solidarity of suffering is a field of mutuality that lies unexplored. The online activity of the masses, from anonymous activist to celebrity conformist, misses the opportunity to untie the tangled pathos that cements individuals into collectives, and brands them as the possessions of “party-lines.”
Not all human suffering is equal, but all human suffering is equally painful. To exist as if the other has no idea about what suffering is, builds a wall of sand. It’s heavy, unpredictable, unnecessary, divisive and dangerous.
On a microscopic level, take for example, a family with a history filled with pain and suffering. One family member decides to function as though they are the only ones to have suffered. They persist until they’ve effectively painted themselves into a narrative of victimization. To do this the suffering of other family members is ignored, whilst they insert those same family members into a story of sabotage and villainy.
Sympathetic listeners are won over. Without a thought to how deep the actual story goes, one side is exalted and the other demonized. At the cost of the truth, one party signs on more and more members, as the self-serving deception expands. All attempts to counter this by its real victims are quickly neutralised through the consolidation of power by the real villain.
The real victims are denied a voice. Backed into a corner they respond, but their self-defence is pointed at, labelled and used in evidence to support the prevailing narrative of victimization. The narrative of victimization is now so water tight that it requires this one family member to orchestrate new dramas in order to maintain the conflict and retain control of the narrative.
This one family member’s broken throne is secured by the continuation of suffering. Thus, the cycle of abuse continues.
In his 1903 book, ‘The Souls Of Black Folk’, William Edward Burghardt Du Bios reflected on the African-American position, post Proclamation of Emancipation. One of the statements he made resonated with me:
‘It is a peculiar sensation, always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others […] being measured by amused contempt and pity.’[i]
Although spoken in a specific context about a heavily oppressed group of people. These words speak for a good portion of the population. They almost perfectly describe the feelings of family members who’ve become victims of the narrative of victimization.
From the bullied youth, to the oppressed members of a family, there is a resonance that moves from the suffering of African-Americans out to all the down-trodden. From this resonance comes a basic solidarity of suffering. It’s from here that we arrive at a point, where understanding the pain of others, helps us understand our own.
In recent months we’ve seen the rise of #blacklivesmatter. A cause not without justification, but its presence has always coincided with the caveat from those who’ve read history and heed it. It’s a cause that must have as its inevitable conclusion, #humanlivesmatter.
If it doesn’t, the movement slides into a kind of reverse racism. It fails to mature beyond protest to justice to reconciliation. If this happens, “black lives matter” will inevitably morph into “only black lives matter,” and the positive aspects of the movement’s cause will be lost.
Bitterness, manipulation of the truth and an irresponsible self-defence binds us to toxic power brokers.
Asian, Latino, Indigenous, Black, White; as the Biblical text tells us, human equality before God is that: “all have fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) and “1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. 2. Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (Mark 12:28-34). Which means that there are groups within groups that have experienced some degree of suffering on one level or another – it means that there can be no attempt to outbid each other with a game of, who has suffered the most at the hands of an oppressor. For example: those of us, who come from housing projects, who’ve been raised on social welfare and who come from highly dysfunctional broken homes, can find some form of solidarity with the long-suffering of our neighbours who come from a similar place, but are different by “race”. This doesn’t deny our neighbour’s suffering, rather it recognises their suffering in our own!
The solidarity of suffering counters racism and replaces it with empathy. It empowers a reasoned turn towards justice, and steers us towards the goal of total racial reconciliation through a dialogue of differences mediated by a recognition of the common ground, such as shared experiences.
From what I’ve read of Du Bios’ early work so far, I think he’d agree.
How do we obtain this? In, through and with Jesus Christ at the head of it.
‘In song and exhortation swelled one refrain—Liberty; in his tears and curses, the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand.’[ii]
What can I learn from this?
My past does not define me. Understand your past, but don’t let it define you, even if others try to keep you living in it.
‘..his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,[…]to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another.’[iii]
[i] Du Bios, W.E.B, 1903 ‘The Souls Of Black Folk’ Coterie Classics, Dover Publications
1.Thessalonians 5: ‘Since we belong to the day, let us be sober…encourage one another, build one another up, be @ peace among yourselves…pray without ceasing…test everything; hold fast what is good.’ (Paul)