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Why I can’t stand with ‘stand with’

Why I can’t stand with ‘stand with’

Back in the day, when you wanted to show support for a cause, or for a person, you might march with or for them, you might join a protest for them, you might boycott something or someone on their behalf…you might do many things, but one thing you wouldn’t do is say that you would ‘stand with’ them. How has this vapid, irritatingly ubiquitous phrase become so, well, ubiquitous?

Few phrases bug me as much as this one does. I’ll admit that I do get irritated when people say ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’, but as a fully developed grammar pedant, I’m entitled to this reaction, I feel. I shudder inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) when people say ‘pacific’ when they mean ‘specific’, muddle up ‘lend’ and ‘borrow’ and literally don’t know what literally means. I get irked when someone ends their tweet, post or conversation ‘rant over’ or ‘end of’, but at least that serves as a kind of marker of vacuity, and absolves me from taking seriously any of their preceding words.

‘Sat with’ I get. I have sat with people who are in pain, grieving or heartbroken, and they with me, because sometimes, there is nothing else you can do but be physically present for someone in distress. You can’t heal their pain but you can at least show them that you love them while they work their way through it.

You can hold their hand and make them tea and pass them tissues, and tell them over and over again that this, too, will pass. I understand the point of this. ‘Stand by’ is also a nice expression, meaning that you will stay around while someone deals with something difficult, demanding or awful. It is a mark of true friendship to do this; anyone who has been through a difficult break up or other personal crisis will know that many ‘friendships’ magically evaporate when the going gets tough.

Someone who will stand by you when your life turns to utter shite is worth their weight in Irish passports. Which I believe have now outstripped gold as a metric of worthfulness.

I also understand ’stand up and be counted’. I understand the imperative here, and it is a powerful one. If someone is being, for example, subjected to racist abuse on a train, it would be a noble thing to take the victim’s side and to stand up to their abuser on their behalf. It would also be extremely brave; sticks and stones may indeed break your bones, but racist language always carries with it the inherent threat of a following size 10 boot, a punch or worse. Inarticulate rage knows its own inarticulacy and therefore often comes armed with additional force.

But ‘stand with’ genuinely baffles me. What does it even mean? Where did it come from? To me, it sounds so ineffective, so passive, so damned weak. It seems to mean ‘I’ll stand here, doing nothing but looking virtuous, while waaay over there some other people will actually get their hands dirty fixing the problem’. It means ‘I know how to protest against things, but have no clue about how to suggest positive alternatives’. It says ‘I am really really good at woke, meaningless gestures, but pretty rubbish at the difficult and messy task of finding a sensible way forward’.

It says ‘look at me, polishing my radical credentials without having to take the trouble to do anything’.

Ah, maybe ignore me. It has been a bruising couple of years politically, and this has left me feeling exhausted and end-of-tethery with increasing frequency. Everything is irritating on some days, which I suppose at least makes a nice change from the barely suppressed fear and creeping horror which are my usual companions.

Maybe I’m being unduly harsh to a bunch of well-meaning people who can recognise a wrong but feel impotent in the face of the worldwide flood of fuckwittery in which we appear to be currently drowning.

Maybe ’standing with’ is all some people feel they can do, and they feel doing at least this is better than doing nothing. I can see that one individual alone may feel powerless, and they may feel this is the only way they possess of expressing kinship or solidarity (which is itself an overworked word and concept, buckling beneath the weight of expectation placed on it just now).

But, so help me Goddess, if I hear one more powerful political leader or influencer or persuader or celebrity pledging to ‘Stand with’ the latest person or group of people to be immersed underneath a tide of rancid stinking bilgewater not of their own making, I will not be held responsible for my actions.

As they wipe the megasized curdled milkshake off their baffled, bemused countenance, blinking uncomprehendingly, and as the cops drag me away in handcuffs, I hope I can count on you for some support. Crowdfund my defence, visit me in prison, send me chocolate but please, whatever you do, do not offer to ‘stand with’ me…

©Teresa Durran 190519


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One thought on “Why I can’t stand with ‘stand with’

  1. Rosa Clemente discusses a similar idea in the buzzword “ally”. It comes off as more of a PR statement than a meaningful show of support since many people toss the label out as an excuse to do the bare minimum when it comes to combating oppression. They can show they aren’t complacent (and even that is questionable), but they won’t enter the trenches holding their soymilk latte. This applies to any form of privilege but it seems more prevalent in discussions of race in my experience.

    Better to be an accomplice, Clemente says, because that invokes a call to action. You aren’t just a supporter of an oppressed people; you’re out there putting your voice and body on the line when these people cannot. I’ve been thinking about this difference a lot the past few months and this piece added another dimension to that dynamic.

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