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Joe Biden faces a slew of challenges as he takes over the job of president of the United States this week: An ongoing pandemic, which the former president chose to downplay over and over again, continues to ravage the nation. We’re just two weeks removed from a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that resulted in several deaths. The plague of systemic racism still wreaks havoc in all sorts of ways every day. It’s going to take a lot of work from a lot of people to right these wrongs. So it’s hardly a surprise that during his inaugural address—the official theme for the day, btw, was “America United”—President Biden decided to focus on “unity.” But I have to ask, what unity, Mr. President, do you speak of?
If it’s the same “unity” that prominent members of the Republican party are now calling for in the wake of what many considered to be the worst attack on the U.S. federal government since 9/11, keep it. That type of “unity” is not about ending a deep-seated divide or quashing the rise of misinformation that mothered it. It’s about allowing men like Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Ted Cruz (who today wore a mask emblazoned with the words “Come and take it”), and others who felt empowered to subvert a fair and free election to sidestep the consequences of their actions.
Numerous reports indicate that GOP Representative Lauren Boebert allegedly gave tours ahead of the insurrection. Six Republican senators and 121 Republican House members declined to certify votes for Biden as president. Why extend an olive branch to those who are willing and waiting to burn our democracy down?
If Biden’s idea of “unity” is continuing to appease anti-abortion politicians, forget it. In a country where 1 out of every 4 women (to say nothing of the trans and non-binary people) will have an abortion by the time they’re 45, a reported 77 percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade. A reported one-third of Republicans do not believe in their party’s stance on abortion. Abortion is a common outcome of pregnancy, and to pretend otherwise for the sake of “bipartisanship” isn’t an act of unity but an act of willful ignorance.
There can be no “unity” if those in power continue to overlook the persisting inequalities that have made it possible for COVID-19 to disproportionately impact Black and Latinx people.
There is no “togetherness” if those in positions of power continue to perpetuate the status quo when working moms are being pushed out of the workforce at disproportionate rates, thanks in no small part to the persisting inequalities that exist inside the home.
To place an importance on “harmony” and “unification” when more than 500 immigrant children cannot be reunited with parents the U.S. government forcefully separated them from is to blatantly deny that the history of this country is rooted in white supremacy that still very much exists, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.
When those in positions of power—usually old white men—call for unity, it often comes at the cost of justice for those who have never and will never know such influence. Yes, in 2021 and likely the years that follow, the U.S. faces what Biden called “a historic moment of crisis and challenge,” but this moment is far from new. If anything, it is a continuation of what can only be described as an American legacy, one that overlooks the most disenfranchised for the sake of the most influential.
The ugly job of ridding this country of racism, sexism, bigotry, and hate is not accomplished by simply looking ahead and moving forward. Nor by bargaining with those who’ve gleefully upheld those ideologies. It’s achieved after substantial contemplation, earned knowledge, and hard lines drawn in the proverbial sand. It is realized when “whataboutism” is disregarded and the allusion of “both sides” gives way to truthful, meaningful debate.
It is difficult to ignore the siren sound of Biden’s calls for unity. At face value, his insistent need to reach across the political aisle is heartwarming—even inspiring. That is, of course, until reality elbows its way to the forefront of your mind and you recall that to stand “unified” with a substantial population of this country is to, at best, be okay with people who might want you dead. To be “unified” with these people is to throw Black, brown, poor, and LGBTQ+ people under the political bus.
I do not want unity, Mr. President. I want integrity. I want equity. I want accountability. I want justice served to those who knowingly lied to the American people and undermined our democracy. And I want the American dream to be realized for all people, not just the loud few or those who are lucky enough to find themselves in a seat at the table. I do not want to forget in the name of “unity.” I want to remember in the name of justice.
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