“Unity” means nothing

By Evan Gaudette

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The Seattle Seahawks have linked arms during the national anthem before their last two games in a display of “unity.” This display comes after and during a wave of player protests such as the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem of a preseason game to protest police brutality toward African Americans.

On the NFL Network program GameDay First, analyst Michael Robinson offered bits of his conversations with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Coach Carroll described the display as “bigger than the game of football” and said he hoped the action would “open up a national conversation.”

Open up the national conversation about what? Unity is a great buzz word if you don’t want anyone to disagree with you. Who can object to unity? Togetherness is something we celebrate; it’s a goal we all want to achieve. But unity is meaningless to change. Unity is the goal, not the means to achieve the goal. In fact, using unity as a means of change is antithetical to the process of achieving unity as a goal.

Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks wide receiver who tweeted about the display, narrated a short video and said “We honor those who have fought for the freedoms we cherish, and we stand to insure the riches of freedom, and the securities of justice, for all people. Progress will be made, only if we stand together.”

At no point is there mention of police brutality or discrimination against black people in any form. Is there anything in that statement that anyone can object to? And if not, what’s the point of saying anything at all? It’s #alllivesmatter, it’s colorblind, it’s no bark or bite, it’s “Guys, I know you’re mad, but can’t we all just get along?”

Unity changes the frame of the situation and puts the fault on the wrong party. Kaepernick is demanding fair treatment of black people and police accountability. He is demanding change from his oppressors, saying that they must be better. The Seahawks are promoting racial unity, saying they want freedom and justice for all people, without even mentioning people who don’t have equal freedom or justice. It puts no burden on the oppressors; the implication is the oppressed should walk hand in hand with their oppressors and hope change ensues, but without a catalyst, change is just a dream.

Unity can’t beget unity, but solidarity, standing against or for something, can. If the Seahawks stood in solidarity against police brutality toward black people and told the world they were locking arms to fight discrimination together, it would have been the most meaningful protest of the NFL season.

The only way to spark change is to address issues clearly and head-on. If a protest or display (because what Seattle did was not a protest) doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable, it’s useless and enabling the party at fault. Rosa Parks did not live in unity with those who wrote the ordinances that prevented her from sitting where she wanted on the bus. She sat in solidarity, she sat where she wasn’t allowed to and she was the catalyst for a movement. Kaepernick sat during the national anthem, and questioned why he should honor a flag that doesn’t honor him or his people. He protested against injustice.

If you believe the world is perfect and that it need no changes, and that those who are complaining of injustice are mistaken, then fine, stand in unity, support the Seahawks. If you believe change is needed, stand in solidarity against something and make someone uncomfortable. If you are the consumer of a protest and you feel uncomfortable, embrace it and change. Unity is nothing; it’s feeling good about yourself for shutting off lights when you leave a room, even though you drive a Hummer. Unity is the straw-man argument of the oppressor to discredit those demanding change. Hopefully someone in Seattle discovers that soon.

Evan Gaudette is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].