This article is the first in a series that will address attempts to divide oppressed populations and pit us against one another. This insidious tactic is being used to bolster fascism in a precursory strategy to institute a white nationalist and totalitarian vision of the United States. As a transgender/queer person, my critiques are built on socialist/communist/anarchist principles through the lens of queer theory and critical trans politics – schools of thought deeply indebted to critical race theory, Black Feminist Theory, and decolonial theory (see Dean Spade’s “Normal Life” for more on critical trans politics).
From the moment the presidential campaigns started a few years ago, I began to hear the toxic refrain that has been a staple of liberal elitism: unity. As someone who is transgender and queer, I am familiar with this concept through my personal work in LGBTQ+ activism over the last several years. While people often use the term in a positive, empowering way, it is anything but that for the most marginalized communities included in the unified vision.
To put it simply, the idea of unity only serves the most privileged members of the unified groups by centering their experiences while ignoring the struggles of the least privileged/most exploited members of the group. For example, the concept of unity has been used to silence women of color and disabled women in the fight for equal pay. While it’s true that white women make as little as 70 cents on the dollar to a white man, Black women make around 60 percent, Hispanic women make around 54 percent, and disabled women make around 12 percent. Yet, we often only hear that women make “three-quarters” or “two-thirds” what men make. The idea of unity has been used in this context to discourage dissent from the least privileged women in order to make at least some gains. In fact, speaking up about this within the movement is often met with hostility that paints advocates as “divisive” and “selfish.” In other words, non-white and/or disabled women should just wait their turn.
It’s important to recognize when these dynamics are at play within our own struggles; not only to develop strategies and tactics that are in line with our values, but to ensure that we have the tools to recognize these dynamics from our opposition. Perhaps it’s important here to note an appropriate remedy to the toxic concept of unity. While I hope others don’t see these terms as empty, the ideas of “solidarity” or being an “accomplice” are two ways to practice the intention behind unity while having a just and equitable impact.
In short, these terms denote a resistance to division in the following ways: intentional community building that stresses intersectionality in leadership as much as process; using our privilege to protect those who are systematically subjected to violence at higher rates than ourselves, even if that entails employing our bodies; working from the margins of our respective communities to center the leadership and analysis of those who suffer the most; critical reflection of our actions and behaviors; and accountability to the other oppressed groups with which we work, side by side.
Throughout these articles, I will be exposing the divisive tactics that are being used by our opposition, by our allies, and within our movement as a way to resist. We need to recognize the ways we’re being divided before we can do anything about them. While I cannot address every issue (especially given the current political climate), I do hope to address the ones that most prominently display divisive tactics and fascist ideology.
I look forward to examining division and resistance, and I hope you’ll join the conversation!