The assertion that we just need “unity” to move forward is fundamentally flawed. We so often do a “performance” of unity or a demonstration of unity without actually embracing the definition and characteristic “nature” of unity itself. In other words, it is easy to declare “Let’s have Unity Day!” without (in anyway) unpacking what we are unified around, or what we understand the definition of unity to be. So, we create ceremonies, parades, “cultural celebrations” where we taste one another’s food and sing songs around themes of unity and we never face “the elephant in the room” that we are clearly so dis-united in these United States of America.
When a nation is founded on stolen land, broken treaties, and enslaved labor, what MUST be recognized is that there’s a lot of work to do before we can actualize the basic premise of our national calling. As Americans we are called to pledge allegiance to the flag, to adhere to the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights as to how we are to live together as a free society. We are called to believe in democracy, equality and justice for ALL. And yet, we have never as a nation, lived up to those beliefs nor have we successfully demonstrated that we, as Americans, are committed to do so. If the insurrectionist mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th illustrated anything, it demonstrated that our democracy is indeed fragile and that there’s a significant percentage of Americans who literally do not believe in it or support it. And that fact is more terrifying than many of us are willing to admit.
Unity does not mean that we all agree. Unity is not defined by the hegemonic ruling class and in no way signifies sameness or a lack of dissent. The American novelist, playwright and activist James Baldwin points out that– “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my right to exist.” And there’s the problem! If unity means that we forget, ignore, or otherwise make insignificant the historic legacy of inequality and the disproportional disenfranchisement and exclusion of certain groups of people from equal participation in the so-called “American Dream”, then that’s not unity at all. That is complicity and acquiescence to systemic and institutional oppression. We cannot comply with those who would maintain legal systems of oppression whereby the rights and liberties of all people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, national origin, immigration status or identity is in any way disrupted or impeded. If this pretense of “Unity” is being used to block and exclude individuals from participation in the democracy that we are building together, then that “unity” is NOT the type of unity we want to support.
The bottom-line is that America still has so much work to do on this democracy. Until we recognize that the Civil War was only a marker in this nation’s history where it appeared that we wanted to become a nation where freedom, equality, justice were available to all people. There was hope then, that we could become something better than we had been. And yet, many people never believed in the precept of equality for ALL. And the truth is many of the descendants of those same people STILL don’t believe in equality for ALL people. The ideology of Manifest Destiny allowed white colonials to take lands, enslave people for generations, break treaties, make laws and enact legislation that declared the Landed gentry of white men as the power brokers, owners, intellectually and physically superior members of society and every other person, race, class, gender unworthy of consideration. That is of course unless they were “proportional citizens” or property. We have never dealt with this history nor have we recognized the percentage of Americans who still believe in the utterly preposterous notion of some type of white superiority or supremacy that many envelop in American “exceptionalism.”
Someday perhaps we can have unity but first we need acknowledgement, truth-telling and accountability. Only then can we begin to heal our nation.