Yesterday, I posted this statement on my social media feeds:
I am wholly uninterested in a conversation about unity that’s not rooted in the unrelenting pursuit of racial justice.
There were a number of people who commented across the feeds that “this is the only kind of unity there is” or “this is true unity” and while I can appreciate the sentiment, these are false statements. And as people committed to racial justice, I need you to know that it’s absolutely possible to be unified against justice.
It requires only a quick scan of history to see how Americans have been unified against justice. We see the crafters of the Constitution compromising (seeking grounds for unity) on slavery. We know that from preachers to politicians, there was a unified effort to protect the institution of slavery. During the era of lynchings, mobs were absolutely unified in destroying the lives of Black folks and the justice system was unified in letting them. The whole system of segregation required the unity of white folks, required their complicity, and required their enforcement of the rules.
More recently, consider the Ahmaud Arbery case. Remember why it took so long for the men involved to even be arrested? It was because all the key players in the criminal justice system knew the murders and made unified decisions to twist the law and allow them to remain free.
But I want to be clear, the my biggest concern is that you are able to recognize when you are being asked to participate in a “unity” that’s not rooted in justice. Because this kind of unity is being asked in corporate leadership teams and at board meetings and through city council decisions and at churches across the country. It no longer sounds like “support segregation or else”. Now it sounds more like this:
-But we have to think of all our constituents and many of them are white. We can’t ignore this fact.
-It’s a great idea, but is anyone else concerned that we’d piss off our donors? We can’t afford to pursue this action right now.
-Don’t worry, we are going to make changes, but we need to do so cautiously. This is a big ship and it will take time make this turn.
-Next time we will… next time we will… next time we will… next time we will…
There are a number of ways you will be asked to participate in decision-making that is racist. In our podcast with Kelly Hurst, she encouraged us to always ask the question, “Who does this policy help? Who does this policy harm?” When the answer benefits white participants, members, students, or clients while harming people of color… you are being asked to provide a unified front that is not rooted in justice.
And I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be in a meeting where I’m being asked to support something I know in my gut is wrong. I wrote about some of these instances in my book, like when the HR exec defended assimilation from all people of color. Now, it’s not usually so blatant, friends. But you must dig to the bottom, beyond the pretty words or clever metaphors- is this policy racist or antiracist?
Calls for unity are everywhere. Who doesn’t want to experience unity?! Everyone wants people on their side. But remember that you stand on the side of justice.
*You know the drill. Typos are evidence of your own graciousness toward me. Lol*