Sunday the Seattle Seahawks locked arms in a sign of unity during the National Anthem. Leading up to their demonstration (if you can even call it that) many leaders of the team took to social media and implored folks to #BuildABridge. This was all in response to Colin Kaepernick and the handful of players such as Brandon Marshall, Arian Foster and others who have chosen not to stand during the National Anthem. The Seattle demonstration has been much more palatable than the others because it was ostensibly a call for unity. The truth, though, is that these calls for unity are nothing more than a Trojan Horse meant to protect the social order and reassure well-intentioned whites that nothing too radical is on the horizon.
Unity is the perfect Trojan Horse; it reinforces the rhetorical contortionism of American exceptionalism and the myth of E Pluribus Unum while erasing the rot at the foundation of our social system. Unity is the rose colored glasses that eases our collective conscious while shinning a spotlight on the real problems: those that point out systemic oppression. Calls for unity in our current situation suggest that such things like the disproportionate killing of Black people by police, or the underfunding of inner city schools, or the ever growing wealth gap would all be remedied if we could “all just get along.” Calls for unity suggest that slavery and segregation have no lasting effect other than hurt feelings. Calls for unity now, before justice, are bullshit.
Real unity requires real connection. And, this is the issue many have when it comes to understanding Kaepernick’s protest, Black Lives Matter, and racial justice in general: a lack of connection. We have been conditioned to accept our hyper-segregated lives through the consumption of the gross stereotypes the media is constantly producing.
In this environment we are encouraged to stay with those most like us. This is the real division. This is the real enemy of unity. Instead of truth-telling and listening to understand across lines of differences, which builds relationships and community, we retreat to our silos and the dominant narrative which reinforces our disconnection.
So, to those who want unity, who want to #BuildABridge, I’m with you. Let’s start by organizing a campaign demanding reparations and a redistribution of the wealth accumulated from slavery. Let’s put an end to the destruction of Earth and stand with our Native brothers and sisters in demanding an end to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Let’s (begin) to put an end to the exploitation of workers both here in America and around the world and put people over profits by supporting $15 Now . Let’s demand an end to predatory lending. Let’s demand an end to militarism and drone strikes. Let’s demand a massive education budget the size of our defense one. Let’s demand everybody has a home and healthcare. This would be unity.
Real unity will only happen when those with power –those who have been systemically advantaged — turn their backs on those systems and rediscover their humanity. Anything short of this is a Trojan Horse not to be trusted. I know its tiring to be so diligent when the allure of this fake unity shines so brightly. It feels good to hear about people coming together. And we all want to feel good. I get that. I want that. And that is precisely why we must reject the mirage. American society is set up to pillage, and there can be no unity in that. However, there can and must be unity towards a fundamental restructuring of American society. A restructuring that includes all voices, especially the ones left out of the original vision: women, people of color, poor folks, immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQ communities. Until that time there must continue to be protests and disruption. We must heed the words of Frederick Douglass, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” The Seahawks had a chance to make a major statement, they had a chance to make a demand, and instead they locked arms and rode a Trojan Horse into the heart of far too many Americans.