Ilhan Omar: Unity Will Take Generations

3 minute read
Jake Westley Anderson visits the spot where Heather Heyer died on Aug. 12.
Jake Westley Anderson visits the spot where Heather Heyer died on Aug. 12.Ruddy Roye for TIME

American hate is not new — and it is not scarce. While Nov. 8, 2016, acted as a wake-up call for many Americans, to most people of color and indigenous people the election of President Trump served as an affirmation of our nation’s divisions. We have never truly defeated hate. We merely allow it to take new forms: Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists, white nationalists — emboldened by reflective leadership — are again comfortable gathering en masse, without hoods. Take a good look, America; this is real, and it is not going away. It is painless to denounce the events in Charlottesville and to question how or why such events occur. We need to recognize that racism has never been subtle, though it has gone underreported. This is the same fight as the civil rights movement, the Civil War — we are fighting over human rights. So the solution is not compromise.

The solution is to educate. It is imperative we collectively overcome and make amends with history. We must confront that our nation was founded by the genocide of indigenous people and on the backs of slaves, that we maintain global power with the tenor of neocolonialism. Our failure to reconcile these facts and our failure to take overt action to correct mistakes further deepen the divide.

Our national avoidance tactic has been to shift the focus to potential international terrorism. With constant misinformation and fearmongering, it is easy to exacerbate external threats while avoiding our internal weaknesses. Our apathy has placed immense strain on society, making it difficult to move forward. And because we have perpetually avoided the truth, pretending that everything has been O.K., we have not focused on laws to protect us from domestic terrorism. We are at a bigger risk of destroying ourselves than falling at the hands of external extremists.

The work of restoring this regression in our democracy is daunting, but we are fighting for the lost promises of liberty, justice and pursuit of happiness. The path ahead: Step out of your comfort zone, engage with your enemies and make them your friends. When we interact with those we fear and hate, we will find commonality. Hope will be found by understanding that diversity is the essence of the American Dream and why we need each other to fulfill it.

To bridge the divide:

1. We must realize that most of our differences are exaggerated nuances fueled by uncompromising ignorance.

2. We must see others’ struggles as our own, and their success as our success, so we can speak to our common humanity.

3. We must build a more connected society, using our resources to uplift one another so we collectively benefit.

No one has the privilege of inaction. No one has the privilege of saying this is not their battle. If we are not actively fighting against regressive ideologies, we are contributing to their growth. We must be courageous. We must spread a radical vision of love and unity.

It is possible, but it will take a long time — we are trying to undo centuries of institutional and personal hatred and exclusion. This is a generational project; do not underestimate the power of human connection.

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