By the time you read this, Unity Day 2018, celebrated on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King will be in the past. As I contemplate the meaning of “unity” in this time of strident discord, a few thoughts emerge. Here is what Unity Day means to me.
A friend of mine who is a biologist has a t-shirt that reads “99% Chimp.” While the number is somewhat dated and the reality more complex than what can fit on a shirt, the point remains valid. We certainly share a great deal of similar DNA with our distant cousins. If that’s the case, imagine what the percentage must be if we compare two humans. 99.999%?
Which two humans? Any two of the 7.5 billion on Earth. Regardless of “race” or “ethnicity” or virtually any other variable. In fact, Scientific American argues that there is so much commonality across all humans that, for example, two people of European ancestry (where my ancestors come from) may be more genetically similar to an Asian person that they are to each other. “Race” is pretty much meaningless, at least to biologists.
This certainly isn’t a new idea. Scientific American also writes that “more than 100 years ago, American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois was concerned that race was being used as a biological explanation for what he understood to be social and cultural differences between different populations of people. He spoke out against the idea of “white” and “black” as discrete groups, claiming that these distinctions ignored the scope of human diversity.”
Modern science clearly leans toward Du Bois, with the mainstream scientific belief being that race is a social construct without biological meaning. In other words, it has less to do with biology and more to do with perception. But historically, we have certainly made a big deal about the 0.001% that separates us.
It is no wonder why. Politicians constantly highlight and exaggerate our differences for political gain. Differences then become a cause for concern, fear, and even anger. Look at what we’ve managed to politicize at one point or another: race, religion, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, where you live, and so on. The politics of “the other” is a constant refrain in our political history. Our leaders should unite us, not divide us. But divide us they do.
I, and those like me, certainly am not without blame. My columns can sometimes be polarizing. While they come from the heart, and promote an agenda I honestly believe is worth considering, my critiques of the beliefs and actions of others certainly do not serve to unite. They certainly do not highlight our areas of agreement. Certainly, it is a legitimate use of the power of the pen to point out strengths and weaknesses of various political proposals. It is certainly within the realm of responsible action to advocate for the betterment of society. But it is not acceptable or responsible to write or speak with the sole purpose to divide us for the sake of political expediency or electoral gain. We should step up to the line, but not over it.
All this is to say that it seems to me that politicians, columnists and many others exaggerate our differences and tend to minimize our similarities. So, to me Unity Day serves as a reminder to not do that. After all, it was Dr, King who said we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
As we move into yet another election season, I certainly hope we can all take to heart the message of Unity Day: Pay more attention to the 99.999% and less to the 0.001%. We tend to forget we are all brothers and sisters. Our differences are trivial, our similarities great. Let’s not forget that either.