It has been an interesting few weeks. As a budding scholar and content introvert, most of my time on earth remains vested in my thoughts and intellectual inquiries—not people. It has been quite the experience to do what I do by force, not necessarily by choice. I share this anecdotal insight as a means to illustrate my core contention.
In a seminar I attended this week, an African-adjacent attendee commented that “whether we like it or not, we are all in this together.” This statement triggered me, echoing a comment a fellow blogger left beneath a post I published last week. Though informed that this dialogue, particularly this phrase, “We’re all in this together” emerged as a caption to this “national crisis,” experiencing it for myself summoned me to a new place. The person who made this comment was a white gentrifier in a predominately black space. Thus, the comment was personally privileging to an ideology that vindicated his presence. The comment functioned as a cheap effort to make his presence seem more like an inclusion than an invasion.
This deflection is, of course, not anything new. In fact, it embodies the reconciliatory narrative pervasive in all walks of anti-black life from media to literature. In Ernest Gaines’ novel A Lesson Before Dying, Gaines humanizes the white male prison guard, who embodies the epistemological gaze that encapsulates a young black man’s final days and final moments. The narrator, black schoolteacher Mr. Wiggins, informs readers that the white prison guard expresses a disinterest in carrying out the racist protocol expected of him. This seems less important than the reality that he does it. The ending, where this white prison guard informs Mr. Wiggins of the young black man’s final words and moments, suggests that “we’re all in this together,” despite the reality that a slain black man, robbed of all elements of his future, who now embodies a communal wound, enables the white prison guard’s livelihood as a white man in America. Yes, they were technically in the prison together, but the white man had the key, and the black male’s abjection–from his wrongful conviction to his placement in a cage–remains the key to white global functionality.
From To Kill a Mockingbird, to the recent Black Panther film, to the This Is Us series, the reconciliatory narrative surfacely posits a post-racial humanity which remains anchored in racist views vested in whiteness as savior, redeemer, and epistemological resource.
Technically, black and whites were in the domestic institution of slavery with whites. Whites, however, were not in chains, they did not lose their names, nor their native tongues. Similarly, during this time, whites can trust in science; blacks, however, cannot afford to forget that the same science used to save white life, and validate a fictive white superiority, occurred at their expense. To say that “we are all in this together” is to overlook the glaring disparities that haunt black life even more fatally in this time of crisis.
Poverty. Homelessness. Education.
Although these problems, like the virus, can easily be panned as universal conflicts, these problems multiply when paired with systemic oppression and racial prejudice in its many folds.
Thus, while it seems amiable to make a blanket statement such as “we’re all in this together,” this statement functions as a panacea which suggests that the work that needs to be done has been consummated, that the virus has somehow cured prior evils, or somehow made them less relevant.
This idea, of course, proves convenient to those whose only reference a false equivalency to feel as though their achievements and life path reflect ability not systemic favor.
Let us also consider the outage that erupted after many interpreted Trump’s timeline as placing the economy over human life. This timely outrage makes a century-long burden the black race, those descended from those who personify the imbalance between economy and humanity, must carry. Descended from those brought here in chains, blacks remain espoused to anti-blackness as a national crisis that proves generational.
Moreover, we ain’t in this together if you ain’t in it for the long haul. We ain’t in it together if you’re in the country by choice. We ain’t in it together if your hue makes you a beneficiary to the hegemony that engenders black suffering. These statements do not mean that other groups do not face harm, hardship or death—it means that they exist in a world where these things matter. For blacks, our hardship, heartbreak, and death comprise the matter that make this white supremacist world go ‘round.
Conclusively, to return to my opening anecdote, to say that “we’re all in this together” conflates what black people endure by force with those forced to experience a fraction of black abjection in select moments in time.
Everybody wants to share labels, but no one wants to share the struggle.