“In order for coalitions to be successful, there must be a clear understanding of what it means to be part of that particular group. Showing solidarity with the group does not merely mean sticking by one another. Individuals must coalesce around some notion of principled solidarity, a unity based on certain shared values and visions. As pointed out earlier, coalitions cannot be based on shared experience and certainly not on a shared fear of ‘the Man’…We contend that this kind of fear may unite disparate groups of people for specific, short-term campaigns, but it will not prove useful in the long run since it does not force individuals to see how an injury to one person affects everybody. Again, this is why we find empathy a really problematic concept. It does not force people to be personally invested in causes that do not immediately affect them, and thus will not take us very far…Coalitional politics, thus, must be based on a shared understanding of oppression.(1) Empathy (alone) cannot foster horizontal comradeship because it is, like sympathy, based on vertical, hierarchical power relations. What we need in lieu of empathy is a conscious disavowal of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Examining the ways in which we as individuals are constituted in and through interlocking, oppressive ideologies, as well as how we benefit from them, should lead to outrage and action on the part of all progressive individuals, not just those who are most obviously at the receiving end of the injustices. We must, furthermore, recognize that we are all disadvantaged by ideologies such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. Bernice Johnson Reagon talks of the importance of keeping our principles intact as we go about the dangerous business of coalition building (362-363). “The thing that must survive you,” she emphasizes, “is not just the record of your practice, but the principles that are the basis of your practice.” (Reagon 366) We need to see our work combatting racism, sexism, homophobia and other oppressive ideologies as a struggle for the future (not just a struggle for our own survival). This is why the principles on which our politics are based are more important than the specific actions we undertake.(1)This idea was echoed by Angela Davis and Cathy Cohen at the Color of Violence II conference held in Chicago in March 2002.
From “Empathy and Antiracist Feminist Coalitional Politics” by Maggie Caygill and Pavitra Sundar, in Rain and Thunder Issue #23, Summer Solstice 2004