In recent weeks, white supremacists, prompted by the president, attempted what effectively was a coup in the United States and elsewhere over the Atlantic, Carlos Ahenkora in the Ghanaian parliament attempted to run-off with some ballots after it looked the results would not be in his party’s favour. Of course, one of these situations was more a threat and the other a comical, if not unbelievable event, but what is more interesting presently is how leadership responded to these events: a call for unity. This seems to be only one topic on which authorities around the world are agreeing upon.
Religious leaders, political and local authorities have been clamoring for a chance to deliver their version of the speech on “the need for unity in our time.” Within the last year especially, as the gaping holes in our social infrastructure were laid open by COVID-19, the public has been accosted by the rhetoric of the importance of all people presenting a united front. You only to type in phrases such as “Ghana Unity” or “United States Unity” to find a considerable amount of news articles on the subject and I welcome anyone to type any other country to that point. Why are such calls becoming more frequent and intense? The answer might be simple, obvious even: In a world with more connections than ever, disunity grows stronger and larger. But I wager that just because the answer appears to be simple and obvious does not make it so. I dare say, anytime the opposing authorities start eyeing a particular topic, we should become a bit uneasy.
The word unity is quite simple in its figurative meaning and use. It means to join to form a whole. This definition, of course, can only be figurative — humans cannot physically amalgamate into a single being; the idea of becoming a whole is a metaphor: a vehicle to understand human actions. A more comprehensive definition of the word unity would be “an understanding that leads to cooperation or an accord.” Over the years, the “metaphor of oneness” has hijacked the understanding of the word. We have become so attached to this figure of speech that we chaff and balk when our differences become apparent. For example, people with different fashion senses, life choices, philosophies, etc. are labelled awkward or at worse as outcasts and hoodlums set to destroy the predominant way of life or “culture.” In actuality, there is no such thing as a predominant way of life —at least any that’s organically made. This is because no two people can be identical in thought and manner; in most cases, there can only be a degree of likeness. But I suppose what we are seeing in such societies is indeed a sort of unity: unity in the idea that there is a single accepted way of life.
The more insidious part comes in when we manage to convince ourselves to strive for unity with abandon to all else. In an alarming and ludicrous turn of events; wronged individuals and victims of abuse are being asked to forgive and quickly move on to unity. To top it off, most of the time it is a third party who was not directly involved in the matter that is asking for such so-called unity. What truly makes these attempts for unity ring false is the fact they are missing two steps on the road to such reconciliation or unity: a sincere acknowledgment of wrongdoing (paying lip service is not enough) and repercussions.
With the repercussions and unity out the window, politicians and other authorities in society can latch on to this idea of unity. If most people are willing to sweep offense after offense under the rug without any critical thought, it ensures an equilibrium that keeps everyone where they are: a most advantageous place for anyone already in power. Instead of doing the hard work of working out differences, these leaders perform pageantry, spending money to shoot colours out of airplanes, building temples of non-denominational unification, and other such rituals of unity forgetting the key component that would make such actions useful: justice. This way of thinking has permeated our lives to the point where it is barely noticeable.
We laud our healthcare workers and teachers for “fighting in the frontlines,” unified in their cause and willing to die if need be (as if by magic hospitals and schools have been lifted into a military zone) instead of doing the sensible thing and providing the resources they need. Therein lies the problem of such talks and ideals of unity: they make us lazy, sluggish to any impactful and necessary change.
Failure to seek justice can be quite damaging. In the United States, after slavery was abolished, there was no effort to seek justice for the treatment of the enslaved people. There was no real talk of justice or a period of recuperation after reconstruction fell through: black people were just expected to get on. With no one admitting to wrongdoing and facing the repercussions the system of oppression continued under different guises and persists to this day. Often abandoning a course to justice is chalked up to the idea that justice has would beget more injury. But drawing this conclusion inadvertently makes a salient point: it acknowledges the fact that the first offense was injurious. Yet somehow the injured are supposed to be more restrained as the offender gets off with a “maybe don’t do that again.” Justice does not equate to Mosaic Law; it however does show respect for all individuals and citizens.
In arguing for fast reconciliation without taking time to reflect on the harm done, we let wrongdoers off easily, effectively ensuring they continue to harm others with the actions and thoughts. When a pot is broken you do not sweet-talk it to try and make it forget the crack. You first acknowledge the crack, and then apply bonding material to restore balance.