The Privilege of Unity

I’ll never forget how it felt to see Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speak last night. I made my husband take a picture of me next to the TV as she gave her speech, overwhelmed by the honor of bearing witness to an historic moment – the first time a woman of Indian descent like me was voted into the second-highest office in our country. I never imagined it would happen in my lifetime. Over these past few months, I had anticipated how I might feel and I knew it would be a *big deal*, but I had no idea how viscerally it would affect me, my entire being tingling deeply, powerfully, and ancestrally with excitement, pride, and hope.

While I feel a sense of relief knowing the country will soon be run by more qualified and competent leaders than we have now, I am also under no illusions regarding how difficult the road to unity will be. Our President-elect may have won the popular vote with the most votes ever in our election history at 74 million – but our current President earned the second highest number of votes with 70 million. That essentially means that half of the voters in the U.S. either passively or actively support racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and every form of systemic oppression imaginable. As an immigrant woman of color with a Black son and family members who are part of the LGBTQ community, those numbers terrify me.

As painful as it is to know how many people in this country support or condone hatred, the most hurtful part of the election results for me has been the immediate calls for compromise and unity by family members and friends. You are asking marginalized communities to suddenly forget and forgive four years of emboldened bigotry, and your privilege is showing. It is even more terrifying than the voting numbers.

Your calls for unity are the epitome of your performative allyship over the past four years and beyond. Your requests for both sides to come together are no better than our current President’s assertion that there are “fine people on both sides” when comparing BLM protestors to the KKK. There was only one side in the wrong during this election – one side who spewed hateful and ignorant rhetoric, one side who promoted violence as the answer, one side who believed their existence was superior to all others. This is not a situation where everyone needs to come together. It is a situation where one group of people significantly hurt another and needs to take ownership and apologize before unity can even be considered. If you feel sudden relief, safety, and comfort in the world again because of this election, you never understood the depth of the pain caused to marginalized people during this last four or four hundred years, you don’t understand systemic oppression, and you are not an ally. You have no right to dictate to marginalized communities how they should interact with the other side in the aftermath of this election.

It takes time to build trust, and it can only be cultivated in an environment of safety. I don’t yet feel safe knowing half of the voters in this country believe I should not have equal rights because I wasn’t born here.

It takes empathy to engage in compromise, and empathy requires compassion. I don’t yet feel compassion from or toward half of the voters in this country who perceive my skin color as a flaw or my son’s skin color as a threat.

It takes understanding to advocate for cooperation, and understanding comes from a place of knowledge. I don’t yet believe that the validity of my lived experiences or years of training as a psychologist who focuses on social justice issues are respected by half of the voters in this country.

I don’t speak for every marginalized individual. Some are less affected, some are quicker to forgive, and some see no other option but to forge forward trying to reach out to the other side. I applaud them, and I will always join them in the ongoing fight for equity and equality.

But I will also remain cautious. I will not forget the silence of those who chose not to stand up for marginalized people. I will not forget how quickly so many of you chose to dismiss the pain inflicted on marginalized individuals because it did not directly affect you. I will not forget your immediate calls for harmony because the world feels safe to you again. I will not assume one election is the resolution to centuries of oppression, and it is not because I am angry, stubborn, or negative. It is because I deserve to trust the instincts I’ve developed through years of experience that taught me valuable lessons about self-preservation and self-protection.

Calls for unity in the present are a sign of privilege. If you are truly invested in reaching a place of genuine and long-lasting unity within our country, neutrality is far from the first step. You must continue to fight for the marginalized by acknowledging their wounds, promoting their voices, and allowing them to dictate their own healing processes.

About Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker

Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker is an adoptee, adoptive parent, and psychologist who provides mental health support focused on adoption, trauma, and racial identity work. She is the author of the "Adoptees Like Me" book series.