At What Point Do Gestures of Solidarity Become Meaningless

So, my workplace is doing this whole thing around “reconciliation”, and (in what I suspect will just go into an internal feel-good echo chamber) today is photos of everyone in orange shirts showing their support.

I am not in the picture (for myriad reasons, including the fact that I HATE having my picture taken).

My problem with this and other events like Pink Shirt Day is that (from what I can see), they serve as feel-good events that people then use to obsolve themselves from reflecting on the issues. They let people pretend to be part of the solution while they continue to remain part of the problem.

But maybe I am being oversensitive about this, maybe these kind of things do have an effect. It’s just my observation that there’s almost more FOMO and the chance for a break in the workday which are serving as motivation rather than knowledge or caring about the issues at hand.


(I am especially interested in hearing from people who are members of groups that these events target: is awareness really raised? Do things get better? Or is it all just about making the participants feel like they’ve done something “good”).

ETA: “Pink Shirt Day” is Canada’s national anti-bullying day, separate from today’s event other than that they’re “let’s all wear a costume and take a picture” events that don’t seem to change anything.


I don’t think you’re being oversensitive. Deirdre Hall didn’t like “okay, everyone wear a ribbon to show support for [enter fashionable cause here]” promotions at high-visibility events honouring entertainment spectacles achievement. The mandate external to the human heart and conscience lessens the meaning and impact of the gesture.

Who chooses the colour of the shirt? Who chooses the day? Is it everybody who is requested to wear an orange shirt, or everyone who isn’t part of a group on whose behalf reconciliation is requested? Is reconciliation or equality or social justice part of your workplace’s mission, vision statement or values set?


I remember a similar concern being raised about the ol’ safety-pin movement a few months back.

It’s hard for me to figure out if “awareness-raising” is all that worthwhile, and whether or not it truly leads to action and change. Some days I really doubt it.


I often wonder about these things, too. I’ve often dealt with the worst mistreatment at the hands of people who claimed to be allies. I saw someone who made off-color jokes about Mexican students during class, in front of everyone, taking a knee this week on twitter. I worry that his public ‘solidarity’ will lead vulnerable students to trust him, only to be abused. I feel like these movements make it so easy for abusers to project the image that will help them find victims.

I saw one campus did a take a knee demonstration and invited speakers to talk about racial inequailty in higher ed, and that seems right. To actually get the word out, with real info, not just do a visible thing in public.


Yes, I would much rather hear concerns and issues from the first-person or first-party than have them mediated by privileged parties unconcerned 364 or 365 days of the year calling shots on how redresses are to look, and concerned about branding and “optics” of solidarity on one day.

To answer the question: when one cannot differentiate between “gesture of solidarity” and “test of employees to see who is cooperative and dedicated” then the gesture of solidarity is meaningless.


oh geez, just today saw a safety-pin avatar commenting on a local development that will include some affordable housing:

safety-pins are a signal of non-radical “liberalism” in all the worst connotations of the word


I’m trying to be deliberately vague about my workplace, but while Social Justice is part of the overall employer agenda, it is not related to our specific department. Which is another reason why people are quite vague on the issues.

But I know these people. I know I am fucking far from perfect or even that good, but I am trying to be aware of my own actions and biases and learn from my mistakes. Yet a lot of those most eager to be front and centre for these things are quite happy to go back ignorance or to perpetuating or even actively supporting the same processes, systems, parties and modes of thinking that made the problems in the first place.

As for who made the choices… I have a very bad feeling that the answer to that is “a committee”. Mostly because it’s so generic, bland, and unoriginal, that if you weren’t told what it’s about, you’d never guess (which helps keep it palatable and doesn’t inconvenience or offend anybody.)


I once saw people selling cupcakes and other sweets at a workplace to support multiple sclerosis research.

I gave them money but didn’t take a cupcake*.

The mum of a friend of mine has MS. MS can be exacerbated by excessive sugar intake. Talk about mixed messages.

I also heard about a fundraiser for the Heart & Stroke Foundation that contracted with a maker of gourmet chocolate until someone realised that maybe gourmet chocolate wasn’t a good thing to encourage participants who were heart attack survivors to eat (yeah I know the thinking is changing in that but officially the H&S foundation still promotes high carb low fat as the way to be heart healthy).

*I do eat cupcakes, but in that case it didn’t seem appropriate.


There was a single speaker/webcast that started right when people on the West Coast were just getting in. Advertised in the kind of blast email that we’re primed to put off until later, sent late the day before deadline for sign-ups.

I get the good intentions, I really do. But it just comes across as… Same as has been done without doing a thing.


Skipping past the issues of sincerity and corporate coercion that others have already covered…

There’s also the inappropriateness of focusing on “reconciliation” at a time of extreme oppression. Division is not the problem; injustice is.



Reconciliation is what indigenous people are calling it, and what they’re working towards. Dictating terminology to native groups rather seems a step backwards.


Reconciliation is the language used in Australia too, and it’s generally (albeit not universally) thought to be appropriate here.

It was unclear from the OP whether this was an indigenous-themed event or something relating to broader US politics.

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Last time I checked, @MalevolentPixy was in Canada. Reconciliation is a big deal here (and about time, though it needs to get bigger).


Okay; that changes the situation substantially.

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Yeah, Canada, and it is related to the Natives and we’ve got a long fucking way to go… Some of our reserves could be compared to Puerto Rico right now. It really is that bad, but we are very good at ignoring it.

There’s also the fact that we even need this:

All of which leaves me feeling like photo ops that are mostly non-native people in as bland and corporatized event as possible are… A little weak and definitely premature. We need to actually do something as a country, first.


Centrepoint, a homeless charity in the UK, does an annual sleep out event to raise money and awareness. I get what they’re trying to do, but it just feels like poverty porn to me.


People often presume a degree of consensus among indigenous people which is not always there. There was a topic on BB last year about “official” native PR positions about “magic” where my input was poorly received because it was contrary to what a few elders had said in a linked article. The natives have already spoken on this issue, Popo!

Not all native Americans find such reconciliation meaningful. Some tribes may have a consensus, but not all of us are affiliated with them.

I would settle for US public schools requiring students to be taught both one European language and one American language. It’s a small thing which would make a big difference.


I hate the “Save the Boobies” promos for breast-cancer awareness; it’s like saying breasts are the only part worth saving, in a way. Fuck that, the hell with my tits (what there are of them, lol) - SAVE ME! My brain is NOT in my mammary glands. And that they ignore that men get breast cancer, too.

Raising awareness is one thing, but it’s just a first step. Persuading folks to realize that a certain issue is important enough to spend more than just 30 seconds thinking about - that’s the way to go. Harry Truman said that one of the big jobs of being POTUS was to get people to do what they ought to in the first place.

But hey, this kinda thing’s been goin’ for centuries. The sad thing is, seems like we gotta sell ethics and morals like they’re fucking products nowadays. But maybe that’s just me.

And in the USA we can’t even reconcile a bloody checkbook, much less our nasty past. Arg.


I have been thinking about this for a while too.

I don’t have the time, money, or other resources to make a meaningful impact with anything.

Well, actually - I do. Most people do. But if we did, we’d be making significant personal sacrifices. I already don’t have enough time to do anything I really enjoy (like watching movies) or things I should be doing for one reason or another (like exercising).

It’s a symptom of the modern age - despite huge advances in productivity and efficiency, inequality on an outrageous scale means that most people are either under-employed (so no resources, and time spent not looking for work is seen as wasted by society) or over-worked (probably can write a check to charity, but many of the over-worked are under-paid).

(Inequality is, of course, also why charity/social justice/etc. awareness is necessary in the first place…)

So what are people supposed to do? Many resort to solidarity gestures to feel better about themselves, and you can’t blame them. I suspect (well, I hope) that most recognize that it’s largely pointless.

I don’t participate in the sorts of solidarity gestures implied here, but I think there are some useful examples of where it may not be so bad.

A little while back after the inauguration there was a women’s equality protest. Women (who were privileged to be able to without repercussion anyway) skipped work to show how important they are to society. Here, a show of solidarity from everyone else is useful - even just men wearing a “The Future is Female” t-shirt that day. In a sort-of similar but more general vein, using symbols (on your car, your computer, whatever) like the equals-sign symbol or a rainbow flag to show solidarity with or support for LGBTQ people is meaningful and useful.

Of course, there’s a problem when compliance becomes deemed mandatory. This is an issue with Remembrance Day poppies in countries that have that tradition - people make a big deal out of politicians and celebrities not wearing a poppy, making it essentially mandatory for all.

That ruins what is otherwise a moving and effective gesture of remembrance and honor.

It’s that kind of societal- and peer-pressure to participate in these gestures of solidarity that, I think, is a big part of what leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We may support the cause vigorously but we’re being pressured into doing these things that everyone knows are useless gestures.

Another thing… I think the way people actually become aware of the kinds of things that have awareness campaigns is through TV and movies and other popular media. I know far more about MS from The West Wing than anyone ever learns about it from MS walks and other awareness and charity things related to MS. People “get” autism from watching Rain Man (or Atypical on Netflix for a more complex view), not from Autism Speaks (an organization made up entirely of people without autism - people basically looking for “cures” for their children whom they can’t accept as they are - but nobody knows that because it’s all about meaningless and shallow “awareness”).


Yeah, this quote most certainly wasn’t written by a homeless person:

Sleep Out in Sunderland’s enormous Stadium of Light. It’s an amazing experience.

If you want to experience being homeless, it’s not difficult. Just leave your home and money behind for a few months and live without them with nothing but what you can carry. Oh, you don’t actually want to do that? You just want to show off with a crowd of other wealthy people? Why not just put on peacock suits and dance around drinking champagne then? Could be an amazing experience.