When I think of the word unity, I think of Queen Latifah bellowing “U-N-I-T-YYYYY,” in a sing-songy tone with a touch of Newark twang. When I think of unity, I think about the way Black women endearingly call each other “sis,” and how Black men greet each other by throwing a nod from “across the way.” However, one thing that notably does not come to mind is a vision of our 50 states.
In the spirit of truth, honesty, and fairness — principles inherently foreign to a country that could declare “all men are created equal” while stealing indigenous land and trading slaves — a brief walk down memory lane will show you that my view of unity as antithetical to America is not truly my fault; it’s America’s. Growing up Black in this country, you learn from an early age just how divided these United States actually are.
There was also that year in high school when I was the unofficial Black spokesperson in my A.P. United States History course. It was quite apropos to discuss all of America’s utopian ideals of unity and its divisive truths in a classroom where nearly all of my peers were White.
My America has never felt united. Not when I learned of the Jim Crow policies that drove my grandparents North and started my family’s Midwestern saga. Not in my childhood growing up in Detroit, where I observed the stark differences between the city and the suburbs past 8 Mile Road — even the grocery stores were more plentiful and pristine. Not in my young adult years spent marching or crying for Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor and the many others whose names we don’t know. And certainly, not now.
But, united we stand, right?
You see, our country’s biggest failure is perpetually refusing to name, claim, and confront its White supremacy problem. Instead, it makes division its convenient scapegoat and unity its go-to rallying cry. In reality, both racism and disunity are as American as apple pie.
Our history is full of division that many Americans conveniently dismiss or romanticize as “behind us.” But, the loyalists and colonialists, the Confederates and Unionists, the enslavers and abolitionists, the segregationists and integrationists, aren’t really that different from the modern day have-a-lots and have-nots, the “Blue Lives” Matter proponents and the Black Lives Matter activists, the MAGA fascists and the rest of us.
For centuries, there has been division on issues of morality, but the palatable, textbook versions of these conflicts seem to be preferred, along with the unity we pretend followed as soon as the “good guys won.” To think critically would force us to acknowledge that unity on certain issues isn’t attainable when hate is on the other end of negotiations.
So, no, I will not unify with those who explicitly believe that I am inferior and who want to cause me harm because they really hate themselves; that would be a repugnant act of self-betrayal. And, no, I don’t want some politician’s empty soundbite or tweet about how “this isn’t America.” It is America. If you’re surprised, it’s because you’ve been under a rock.
If we want to save our democracy, false unity can no longer be our principal priority. Instead, we must bask in division if it means dismantling white supremacy’s stronghold on our country, as we work towards a nation where genuine unity becomes possible after righting our wrongs.