During his inauguration speech, Joe Biden made extensive use of a concept that’s been a major buzzword throughout his entire campaign: unity.
“Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury,” he stated.
On the surface, this seems like a lovely sentiment. Our country has been fiercely divided over the past four years, so perhaps it’s time to come together as one America and put all that discord behind us.
Or, perhaps it’s time to get to the root of why that discord existed in the first place.
Let’s be honest – most of the people calling for unity come from a place of privilege and would not be greatly affected by having to make nice with certain groups. And, for the record, this is coming from someone who’s about as privileged as it gets.
Despite my own privilege, I engage in a few spaces in which Black and non-Black people of color help white folks rid themselves of their implicit biases. And let me tell you — those folks aren’t calling for unity.
They’re calling for justice.
Two weeks before Biden’s inauguration, a group of rioters – who may or may not have been incited by then-president Donald Trump — carried the Confederate flag into the United States Capitol building. More than 600,000 people died in the Civil War to prevent this exact scene from playing out.
In 2020, 999 Americans were fatally shot by police officers. 226 of them — or 22.6% — were Black. Given that Black people make up just 13.4% of the United States population, they comprised a higher proportion of shootings than any other ethnic group.
As crazy as it may seem, many Black folks aren’t too keen on the idea of unifying with the people and systems that perpetuate their continual oppression.
I appreciate Biden’s optimism, and I understand the desire to calm some of the turmoil we’ve experienced over the past four years — really, I do.
But people don’t riot in the streets or loot the Capitol building for shits and giggles. Whether you agree with them or not, people on both sides of the political spectrum are clearly disillusioned with the state of the country, and forcing them to hold hands and sing Kumbaya with each other isn’t going to solve that disillusionment.
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The point is, unity is worthless when it’s forced. I don’t think reducing the political tensions in this country is impossible, but I don’t think it’s feasible — or even preferable — at the present time.
Now, I’m not sure about this next point, as I’ve never lived in a country like this, but I’d imagine that unity would be far easier to come by in an equitable society.
In our country’s current state, saying we need to come together as Americans is merely a cute way to gaslight marginalized groups — non-whites, LGBTQ+ folks, poor people and more — and, ultimately, portray them as problematic and ungrateful when they refuse to comply with their oppressors.
If these groups weren’t constantly being pushed underwater, perhaps unity would be a permanent fixture in society rather than a political agenda.
Biden largely owes his victory to progressives who weren’t all that fond of him but settled for him to avoid another four years of the candidate endorsed by the KKK.
Honestly, if he wants another term after this one, he better recognize this fact, cut “unity” out of his vocabulary and replace it with “justice.”
Biden has taken steps toward elevating voices of color by assembling a historically diverse cabinet, but he better really listen to them and prove that his choices weren’t just for show.
One of Biden’s first actions as president was to repeal Trump’s ban on transgender troops, but he better continue taking concrete steps toward making the country safer for queer communities.
And, Biden is pushing for a $15 federal minimum wage, but he better recognize that this still isn’t a living wage for most Americans and keep raising that bar.
Perhaps we progressives are asking too much of the 78-year-old moderate in the White House, but if he’s going to make unity a centerpiece of his presidency, he better start making some serious changes to this clusterfuck of a country.
Buckle up, Joe. The honeymoon phase is over, and it’s about time we start holding you accountable.