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Racial Unity?

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People take part in a rally on April 29, 2015 at Union Square in New York, held in solidarity with demonstrators in Baltimore, Maryland demanding justice for an African-American man who died of severe spinal injuries sustained in police custody.    AFP PHOTO/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez        (Photo credit should read EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Stacey Patton convincingly argues that Hillary Clinton speech about racial unity was wrongheaded.

Beyond that, Clinton’s call for everyone to “do the work” to unite against hatred overlooks the fundamental fact that it’s whites — and only whites — who must work to fix the racist structures in our society.

To quote another historical figure, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The thing wrong with America is white racism. … It’s time for America to have an intensified study on what’s wrong with white folks.” Clinton could have spoken about racial justice.

Instead, like so many others, she focused on the rhetoric of unity. And calling for unity places yet another burden on black people.

Look at what happens in the wake of a shooting by police like the ones last week in Minnesota and Louisiana and Texas: The relatives of the victims are clearly grieving and traumatized, yet they are pushed to extend empathy and forgiveness to those who killed their loved ones, and to the system that profits from these tragedies. Routinely now, we encounter scenes of black folks hugging racists, praying with and dancing with police officers, being asked to do the additional work of teaching white folks how not to be racist and help them find solutions to a racist system we didn’t invent — while we struggle to keep ourselves and our loved ones alive.

Talk of unity, reconciliation and restoring trust is a diversion from the raw, ugly, excruciatingly painful work of addressing the systemic racism that is tearing our nation apart. In their rush to avoid the real work in favor of a kumbaya fantasy comfort zone, they refuse to confront history and the truth about present moment.

Asking black people to participate in this reconciliation process — one that centers on Lincoln — suggests that we bear responsibility in this mess. But we didn’t invent the concept of race. We didn’t create and don’t sustain institutionalized racism. And we surely don’t benefit from it.

Rhetorical calls for unity won’t address the fundamental sources of inequality: mass incarceration, employment discrimination, militarized policing, the school-to-prison pipeline, divestment in communities of color, political disenfranchisement, displacement of poor and working-class people of color from gentrifying cities. The emphasis on unity makes no room for discussion about growing white resentment and feelings of victimization, and it presumes that black folks bear responsibility for the entrenched problem of a “colorblind” white America that denies racism even exists.

And while Clinton may not have intended it this way, what the message of unity winds up doing is blaming communities of color for failing to assimilate, rather than acknowledging that the very fabric of this nation is built upon a diabolical, calculated and constantly evolving system of racism. That has the same effect as when Republicans blame President Obama for dividing the nation and making race relations worse, or when the media chastises Black Lives Matter protesters for alienating liberals with its “violent tone.”

All that said, I don’t really see what else a presidential nominee is going to say four months before the general election.

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