By: Taylor Zachary ~Columnist~
“All for One and One for All.” The slogan is the hallmark of Xavier University’s identity. It decorates the homepage of our website. It is the celebratory battle cry at the climax of graduation. The words even drape from the roof of Fenwick Hall – our most central value hung from our most central building.
These words most certainly have power. I do not wish to deny that. However, words can also be misleading. When I read the slogan, I cannot divorce it from the idea of “unity” or being “united.” On the spectrum of words that have power and words that do not have power, “unity” falls in the latter category. The redundant promotion and current practice of “unity” is not only a fruitless myth but consequently destructive.
It is mere ignorance to deny that Western Europeans, through policy and culture, used euro-exceptionalism to establish themselves as the moral authority of the world and enforced such thinking against the will of other civilizations. Thus, the bondage of Africans – the legal rape of enslaved Black and indigenous women – and the legality of genocide were all met with moral justifications. It is important to note that any justification in this regard is, and can only be, self-serving. As one justifies an action, so too must they justify the conscience that initiates and allows said action.
In fact, every justification for the degradation of Black and indigenous life, from colonization to enslavement to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, is a means to soothe the moral conscious of a generationally oppressive society.
This is not speculation. Consider the justification Cleveland Police used after murdering Tamir Rice while he played in a local park. Consider the justification Chicago Police used after pumping 14 bullets into Laquan McDonald. Consider the justification New York Police used after choking Eric Garner to death while he begged for breath. Consider the justification Baltimore Police used after murdering Koryn Gaines and putting a bullet through the chest of her 5-year-old son.
“I feared for my life” has proven to be no more than a redundant and empty excuse to make the immoral feel moral and to masquerade evil as utilitarian.
I suppose the word “unity” is proposed with the best of intentions. I imagine one of the reasons America, as well as Xavier, clings to the myth of unity so stubbornly is because they sense once the myth is destroyed, they will be forced to deal with pain. Authentic unity, beyond a comfortable and passive myth, necessitates a painful reckoning with history. It means confronting soullessness. It means decentralizing the generational privilege of White America and working to repair the wrongs that created and continue to sustain this privilege.
Donald Trump is evidence of systemically ignoring a 397-year path of destruction.
The majority of people cloaked in Whiteness condition themselves to ignore themselves and their own history, while simultaneously resolving Black and indigenous histories to worthless drudgery. Such a diversion from truth certainly distorts the nature of what is and what is not considered true and the subsequent application of what is and what is not considered true. Unfortunately, for the oppressed, the oppressor has long enjoyed the social, cultural, economic and political capital to define the oppression.
Even more insidious is the self-inflicted denial of one’s ability to understand one’s fullest self, in all its flaws and beauty – not one’s humanity but one’s humanness. It is my assertion that the persistence of White identity and White supremacy, both as personal identities and systemic structures that sustain the oppression of Black, Brown and indigenous bodies, has been made possible only through historical hypocrisy. A person nation or university cannot lay claim to, or, arguably, even encourage unity when the entity resists an honest reckoning with the genesis of partition.
Unity, in America or at Xavier, cannot be a trusted proclamation if the claim does not come from marginalized identities. Do Black women, trans, queer or indigenous peoples consider our nation, or our university, in unity with them? Claiming unity across differences of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class, self-interest, age, religion and intellectual position, demands of ourselves something America and Xavier have never done and frankly do not know how to do.