Erin Keith, Esq.
A Farewell to Forced Unity: The Divided States of America
With the Presidential Inauguration just days away, in the wake of President Donald Trump being impeached yet again, some politicians have made their proverbial cry for “unity.” Such calls ring hollow, especially now.
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 declares “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 an antonym for America is truly not my fault, it’s America's. Growing up as a Black girl in this country, no matter the decade, you learn from a young age just how divided these purportedly United States really are.
You see, I was still saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag of our great union at my elementary school, the first time I heard the divisive, hate-fueled word “nigger.”
A few years later, when I was “taught” about Dr. King and his admirable dream for a unified America through non-violence, I had already been educated about his true legacy outside of school. So, when white teachers on the verge of tears hailed him a hero, after reading a cherry-picked quote, it wasn’t lost on me that it was the government of these purported United States who relentlessly surveilled him and a white man in these United States who murdered him.
There was also that semester in high school when I was the only Black student in my A.P. United States History course, an apropos dichotomy for discussing all of America’s utopian ideals of unity and its divisive truths. It paired perfectly with the school’s notoriously segregated cafeteria where students sat with “their kind,” not by force, but also not-not by the force—an invisible type of peer pressure where you eat where you “feel most comfortable.”
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, when observing the suburban polish of “the other side” of 8 Mile Road. Not in my young adult years spent marching for Trayvon and Tamir and Freddie and Sandra and Breonna and the many others whose names we don’t know. And certainly, not now.
Not even a year ago, a deadly virus we are still actively battling swept through our purported United States, severely affecting people of all ethnicities, races and creeds, but disproportionately decimating Black and Brown and Indigenous communities. When that latter fact reached mainstream media, I heard some members of our “union” go from holding their breaths in fear and viewing COVID-19 as our “great equalizer,” to shouting for an immediate return to a maskless society. The common denominator? People in the anti-masker group stopped believing “the bad” and “the deadly” was happening to “them” because they weren’t Black, or Latino, or Native. Some of these same folks went on to make death threats and form a kidnapping plot against Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, for her attempt to save their lives.
But, united we stand, right?
Here we are. Not even two full weeks into the “year of our Lord” 2021, and white nationalists—domestic terrorists born and bred on our own soil—storm the Capitol building. They beat a Capitol police officer to death with a fire extinguisher, walk around with confederate flags and zip ties for hostages, breathe maskless ‘rona breath around our halls of governance, vandalize offices and steal confidential documents, and interrupt the electoral vote count. And yet, after all of this, the president of our “union,” tells these people that he loves them. A stark contrast from the message “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he had for protestors for Black lives this summer.
You see, our country’s biggest failure is perpetually refusing to name and claim its white supremacy problem. Instead, it makes division its convenient scapegoat and unity its go-to rallying cry. In reality, disunity in our country is normal and is as American as apple pie.
Our nation’s history is full of division that most Americans conveniently dismiss or romanticize as “behind us.” But, the loyalists and the colonialists, the confederates and the unionists, the enslavers and the abolitionists, the segregationists and the integrationists, aren’t really that different from the modern day have-alots and the have-nots, the “Blue Lives” Matter fanatics and the Black Lives Matter activists, the MAGA fascists and the rest of us. We’ve seen division on issues of morality for centuries, but we seem to prefer the more palatable textbook versions of the conflicts, and the unity we pretend magically followed once 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 side of the negotiating table.
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; nor, will I rebuke their hatred while spewing my own. Both options are equally repugnant acts of self-betrayal in which I will not participate. Instead, I will focus less on unity and more on critiquing American hypocrisy until there isn’t any left—and that, my friends, could be a while.
In the preamble of the Constitution there is a phrase politicians love to quote: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union . . .”. But when has America ever been a true union of all of its people?
I honestly don’t want leaders who work to form “a more perfect union,” if that means holding it together with duct tape and putting Band-Aids over badly infected wounds. Instead, I want leaders who finally, for the first time since this country’s inception, allow America to sit in its mess without spraying Febreze.
I don’t want some politician’s empty tweet or soundbite about how “this isn’t America.” It is America— it has been for a while. If you’re surprised, it’s because you’re privileged or were in denial.
Our founding fathers can keep their “more perfect union” rhetoric, as can today’s leaders who think that unity is still the goal. I’ll gladly take division if it means dismantling white supremacy’s stronghold on our democracy. I’ll take division if it means building a country where people don’t starve and lose their housing in a pandemic, while legislators squabble over $600 chump change.
I’ll take division if it leads to billionaires paying real taxes. I’ll take division if it leads to free education and free healthcare for all. I’ll take division if it leads to “breathing while Black” no longer being a death sentence. I’ll take division if it leads to reasonable immigration policies and compassion and human decency for asylum seekers. I’ll take division if it leads to the end of school shootings. I’ll take division if it leads to a livable minimum wage.
Continuing down our nation’s preferred path of make-believe unity is a colossal mistake—one we cannot afford, one our democracy will not withstand. It is time for our divided states to look into its broken mirror, to examine its cracks, and to see its true, distorted reflection.
Until then, unity, I’ll gladly bid you farewell.
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