Why unity is like a unicorn

A unicorn is a mythical creature, a majestic horse with a single horn protruding from its forehead. It has magical powers and is a sight to behold. Unicorns are staples in fairy tales oft sought after for their magical properties, a sign of good fortune.

Because unicorns have their foundation in the real-life horse, the idea of the unicorn itself isn’t so farfetched. A unicorn is an easy thing for children to believe in.

Unity is the act of being together and working together for a common goal. It is the opposite of division. It is oneness of purpose.

Queen Latifah called for it in 1993, mobilizing Black women and men to join together to respect themselves and each other. Crew teams understand the importance of unity; they must row in sync. Choirs must be able to sing in unison to make beautiful music.

Unity is the basis of teamwork; together everyone achieves more. A team can’t win unless it is working together toward a common goal. Team members must put their own issues aside to come together to win.

In the Black community, there is often conversation about the need for unity. “We need to get together.” “We can’t get anywhere because we’re not unified.” “We’re like crabs in a barrel. Nobody wants to see anybody else succeed.” “We need to be more like the (insert other ethnic minority groups here). You see how they pull together and support each other?”

These are all things I’ve heard from other Black people as it relates to why the “Black agenda” can’t move forward. While I understand and believe in the beauty of unity, I don’t think it’s realistic when talking about the movement for Black liberation. Here’s why.

There are approximately 42 million Black people who live in the United States. This includes around 4.2 million Black immigrants. The continent of Africa has over 3,000 tribes, and they speak over 2,000 languages. Who has ever been able to get 42 million people to rally around a common goal? Is that even realistic? Have other groups of even smaller numbers achieved unity?

When slavery was legal, there were White people who were actively against the act of slavery and the benefits that it provided to this nation. Abolitionists were always doing the work of activism in America. Benjamin Lay and the Quakers, William Lloyd Garrison (founder of the Anti-Slavery Society), and John Brown, who led the raid on Harpers Ferry, are a few who opposed the status quo.

Each of the parties in our two-party government system shows a variety of dissenting positions, and they do not act in a unified manner. Even in the current Republican Party, while most back Trump and his antics, there are still dissenters like Mitt Romney who speak out against him.

The Democratic Party once had upwards of 20 candidates in the primary—that’s not unity. In the movies, we only see large-scale unity when we are fighting against an alien invader, like in Independence Day. Even then, there were still groups of people who did their own thing and stood on top of a building to welcome the new alien nation. In the event of a real-life alien invasion, I’m positive that there would be parts of our citizenry who would do the same thing.

If you dissect other racial/ethnic groups, you will find in-fighting over religious beliefs, land, politics and economics. No one has achieved this unicorn-like unity. Even if they did, it would not be appropriate to compare their struggle to that of the Black community.

Let us consider that Black people, specifically the descendants of kidnapped and enslaved Africans, are the only ethnic group in America that came to this country against its will.

People of other ethnic groups came to America seeking opportunity; the kidnapped Africans came here to create opportunities for others.

There was a systematic plan to keep the Africans from uniting. Harriet Tubman and her harrowing plight led many of the enslaved to freedom, but she knew that everyone couldn’t make the trip, and she was wary to make sure that everyone was not in on the plan.

Unity is not possible because we are not a monolith. We represent different cultures, viewpoints, age groups and generations, socio-economic statuses, religions, and we live in different regions of the country. We even have different hopes and dreams for our children. To expect us to be a unified group is unrealistic and can make us as a people more depressed about our current situation.

If we have an unrealistic expectation for ourselves and constantly compare ourselves to other groups who have seemingly unified, then we continue to perpetuate the narrative that we as a people are somehow “less than” because we can’t get unified. The theory is the same as it relates to “Black-on-Black crime.”

The “Black-on-Black crime” is often used to somehow justify why we shouldn’t be outraged when the police kill one of our brothers or sisters. It is the reason we deserve to live in poverty and the reason we’re overrepresented in the prison population. It’s the answer to every question about our discrimination. We don’t even value ourselves enough to not commit crimes against each other. Who does that?

The answer is: everyone. Every other identifiable ethnic/racial group does that. People commit crimes against who they know and are around. The Bureau of Justice Statistics says that most crimes are committed by a person of the same race as the victim. Yet, we are led to believe that our people are somehow self-hating super-thugs.

They also want us to believe that Black fathers are absentee deadbeat dads. We hear it all the time, and our community leaders admonish the men about not being present in the lives of their children. Is this the case for some families? Of course, it is, but the statistics tell a much different story.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black dads spend more time in the day-to-day lives of their children than do men from other ethnic groups. Our fathers are present and accounted for.

Now the crazy thing about all of this is that we shouldn’t be as successful as we are. There is no statistical or historical reason that Black people should’ve achieved as much as we have. The odds were completely stacked against us.

From slavery to Jim Crow, to mass incarceration, to the decimation of Black Wall Street, to redlining and on and on, the fact that we have been able to achieve a modicum of what we have is a miracle. Maybe that’s why we think unity should be on that list.

Unity, while mythical, seems attainable because it looks like something we recognize, just like the unicorn looks like a horse. And while it would be pretty awesome to have a magical unicorn to grant wishes, I think our time is better spent learning how to harness the very real powers of the horse.

Cherise Ayers is a Twin Cities resident and career educator. She welcomes reader responses to cherise.ayers11@gmail.com.