The incumbent US president, who was defeated by Democratic candidate Joe Biden in Tuesday's election, took power amid a historic context of racism, discrimination, and state brutality. Treating him as an aberration ignores that legacy.
The hate he stokes and harm he causes is not unique to him nor the current moment in the United States of America.
As such, the division that is candidly on display across the country isn’t new; it is merely exposing what has always been dormant, what has always been the foundation of this nation’s founding: White supremacy.
Now that the ballots have been counted, and the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket has squeaked through to clinch the White House, we must challenge the notion of bringing the country together under the guise of unity.
Are we trying to make America united again? There is no precedent for when this nation was ever united. Unity was not present at the moment of the nation’s inception when 55 million native people or 90 percent of the indigenous population were killed and removed from North America.
It didn’t matter when the enslavement of 450,000 Africans directly to America (of 12.5 million imported to the New World) was perpetuated purely for economic gain. Or when, in 1924, the remaining indigenous peoples had to apply for citizenship on their own land.
Unity was not present during the Civil War, nor when the the 13th amendment abolished slavery. It did not matter during the nearly 100-year-long Jim Crow era, nor when Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps in the 1940s, nor when the Chinese were excluded from immigration to America in 1882 for fear of there being too many, nor during the rise of the movement for Black lives in 2013 after the acquittal of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s murderer and multiple killings at the hands of police under Biden’s tenure as vice president.
Unity was not present with the rise and disproportionate impact of mass incarceration. It didn’t count during record immigrant deportations of the Obama administration. Unity was not present for Muslim and Arab people following 9/11, nor when Trump enacted the xenophobic travel ban from primarily the Middle East and African countries. The concept is not even present during this coronavirus pandemic, when Black and brown people are dying in larger numbers than most, while many white people protest for the right to walk around maskless putting others at risk of COVID-19 infection.
To call for unity now is to live in a fantasy world the United States has never known.
It is a dangerous proposition to make to those who have been on the receiving end of the oppression this nation specialises in.
Unity is being weaponised. Unity for the sake of unity is vapid when it is prioritised over justice and progress. Unity is dangerous when those on one side are ready and armed to take action to harm, hurt, and eradicate the group of people for whom they have always harboured hatred.
Biden’s push to reconcile ignores ongoing threats and the power of white supremacy. He keeps insisting he’ll be president for everyone: “I’ll be a president for all Americans. Not just the ones who vote for me,” he has said.
However, that seems to validate the worst values and policies that seek to uphold white supremacy. Biden is very interested in investing in policing, has a history of contributing to mass incarceration of Black people through his support of the 1994 crime bill, and was part of the administration that deported the most unauthorised immigrants in America history. He not only needs to vocally denounce the people who support such harmful values, Biden needs to dismantle the institutional policies that seek to maintain those harmful systems.
The desire to compromise disregards the values of justice and progress for the sake of peace and unity. The trouble with unity is that it centers the priorities of the most privileged and comfortable, and places the burden and demands on the afflicted. This sounds a lot like what the United States has always done: claim unity at the expense of the groups most harmed by its policies and norms. Those who uphold white supremacy respond to those calling out injustice with contrarian platitudes like “all lives matter,” “we are all one human race” and “I don’t see color” dismissing and invalidating the lives of Black, indigenous, brown and other underrepresented people in America.
We won’t have it: Unity continues the gradual delay of putting off healing and progress, and avoids accountability by those who have advanced harm. Unity will not address the impact or harm caused, and without any internal desire to be accountable from those who maintain white supremacy, more harm will be caused. And the ones who have done the harm are only further entrenched in their racism and hate, and do not seek any form of accountability because they have never had to be accountable for the legacy of white supremacy they have maintained. What makes anyone think they will suddenly have a change of heart? Especially 244 years after the country was founded on the backs of indigenous and Black people .
To appeal to the hearts and minds of conservatives and liberals who maintain white supremacy is ill-advised. Even if they did change their minds, it wouldn’t change the structures and policies that advance white supremacy, and it wouldn’t change the history of its impact on people here and abroad. For true unity to occur, healing and reconciliation must come first, and these do not happen without tangibly addressing the history, context and legacy of what this nation has always stood for. Eradicate white supremacy, and then we can have unity.
Until then, we are living in the fantasy of a United States that no one has ever known.
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