Unity. But First...a Reckoning.

In the wake of the most divisive presidential election in my lifetime, many people are calling for unity. Let’s just come together, they say. Put our differences aside and work as a team to heal this country and make it truly great for everyone.

That sounds lovely.

And also, it’s bullshit.

Here’s why.

1. What’s being referred to as “disagreement” in this scenario is actually discrimination - and I can’t agree with that. Ever.

How am I supposed to break bread with people who, literally days ago, were chanting and waving flags representative of a man and a movement who sees me as less worthy of rights than a cis-het white man - and who see my fellow Americans with black and brown skin as even less? How are any of us supposed to trust any of them after the events that have unfolded over the last four years? “Agree to disagree” doesn’t apply when the thing you’re disagreeing about is human rights. Period.

2. The expectation of unity and forgiveness without any kind of apology, accountability, or even acknowledgement of the harm that’s been done is textbook abusive behavior.

Asking marginalized Americans to just shelve the trauma they’ve endured after four years of dehumanization and discrimination from the president and his supporters is, once again, putting the burden on the most disenfranchised among us. You can’t lock someone in a box for years and then expect them to react to you with love and magnanimity because they were finally able to crawl out of it. It does not work like that. And the expectation that it should - that the last four years should just be forgotten and those who've been harmed should simply get over it and extend the olive branch so we can all get along - is abusive. If any olive branches are being extended, they need to come from those who have perpetuated harm - not those at the receiving end of it.

The last four years have been traumatic for many, and it takes a lot more than a pie-in-the-sky idea and a lopsided burden of unity to heal.

3. Call me cynical, but based on years of evidence, I'm doubtful that unity is really a priority for Trump loyalists.

Imagine that we did all come together at the same table. Then imagine that, in the middle of the meal, it was announced that a whole new presidential election would be taking place, with Trump as a candidate. How would his supporters respond? Almost certainly, they’d flee the table of unity in droves, pick up their flags, put on their hats, and go right back to championing for a more discriminatory, more dehumanizing, more divided America. Unity is a nice concept, but it won’t work if the one side's commitment to it is fickle at best. And though some Trump supporters might claim a desire for unity, you can be damn sure that illusion will be dropped like a hot potato the second some other authoritarian white supremacist charlatan of a leader gives them an excuse to lean into their bigotry without apology.

See, what we're really talking about isn't unity. It's acquittal; a casting away of the responsibility Trump loyalists bear for the harm that's been caused by their support of him and his hateful rhetoric. Where's the accountability? Unity requires accountability first. And given what we've all seen, I think it's naive to assume that, given another shot at an unapologetically white supremacist, anti-feminist, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant America, most Trump supporters wouldn't jump at the chance.

4. Expecting unity without reckoning is just more of the same - and it's not good enough.

This is what has always happened, without fail, throughout American history: members of dominant culture will throw a few scraps to those with less power, as though those scraps can somehow transform hundreds of years of oppression and hatred into water under the bridge.

It happened when Europeans came to this land, systematically wiped out indigenous populations, robbed them of their cultures and languages, forced them to assimilate, then acted as though they should be grateful for the land that was then “given” to them by the U.S. government.

It happened when white people enslaved Black people for generations, fought an entire war over whether this practice should be allowed to continue, shuffled them from slavery into Jim Crow into the war on drugs and mass incarceration, and now want to pretend like everything is fine, conveniently ignoring hundreds of years of deliberate oppression, as though the past couldn’t possibly have a bearing on the present.

It happened when female Americans were denied equal rights for centuries before the 19th Amendment finally granted (white) women the right to vote; many men today interpret this piece of American history as proof that women already have total equality, despite the mountains of empirical data describing inequities, such as the gender pay gap, that signify we have a long way to go.

In each of these scenarios, the argument is along the lines of, "Just get over it, we've given you something, shouldn't you be grateful for that and move on?" The missing ingredient each time, however, is: the reckoning. There's been virtually no real atonement for the wrongs that have been perpetuated against marginalized people, even in areas where forward strides have been made - and until there has been, any semblance of true unity is watered-down at best.

5. There is no “middle ground” here.

There is no middle ground between racism and racial justice; if ANY racism exists, you do not have racial justice. They cannot both be partially true.

There is no middle ground in the argument of whether LGBT Americans deserve equal rights. There is no gray area in which to stand - no space to occupy that advocates for a little of both. There is no such thing as justice if even a shred of inequality exists. The two are mutually exclusive.

There is no middle ground in the argument of whether women are free to make our own decisions about our own bodies. Any governance over our reproductive choices inherently means we are NOT free.

There is no middle ground in the separation of children from their families. What would that even look like? Instead of 500 children whose parents we are unable to locate, we should settle on 250? How is that justice, when the number should have been - could have been - zero?

There is no middle ground here; not in the debate about which humans deserve rights and which do not.

Unity sounds nice...but not until it's genuine. Not until we can all get together and agree on simple facts, such as "racism is very much alive" and "human beings deserve rights" and "science is actually real." Unity only works if we're willing to do the work.

For my part, I'm willing to work my ass off to make this country a better place for marginalized people - but what I'm not willing to do is compromise my values in order to meet people halfway. I'm not willing to hear or witness racist or otherwise discriminatory rhetoric without pushing back against it. I'm not willing to accept the status quo of white supremacy, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, and hatred.

And I'm not willing to smile and make nice with people who think human rights for anyone are up for debate.

Nah...I'll put that time and effort into advocating for real change, instead.

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© 2020 by Ali Owens​