Episode 128 - The “Healing” Con: How Warm and Fuzzy Appeals for "Unity" Are Used to Protect Power
"Biden Calls For Hope And Healing In Speech," NPR reports. "Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot calls for return to Sept. 11 unity," writes The Chicago Tribune. Following the 2014 Ferguson protests, a CNN headline read, "Obama: Now is the time for peace, healing." "Filmmaker Ken Burns aims for healing with new documentary about Vietnam War," the San Diego Union-Tribune has told us. Everywhere we turn columnists, celebrities, pundits, and politicians are insisting we have "unity," "come together," promote "peace" and work to "heal the divisions."
On its face these concepts sound fine enough: after all, who doesn’t like peace? Unity sounds great! Who wouldn't want to "heal" our wounds? Wounds are bad! But in the majority of political contexts, these warm and fuzzy buzzwords rush past the messy and difficult work of justice, substantive change, or reparations and get straight to the part where everyone just feels good about themselves.
In a world where 2100 billionaires hoard more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population, where billions live in abject poverty, what do concepts like peace mean? After an administration that has carried out deliberate policies of ethnic cleaning at the U.S border, what does unity entail? In a country that has leveled much of the Middle East, Korea, Vietnam, and overthrown numerous democracies in Latin America, what does healing involve? Without concrete policies of accountability, restitution, restoration and reparation, squishy liberal notions of "unity" and "healing" achieve little more than protecting the status quo.
This isn’t a unique problem: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously reminded white liberals that "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice," a point he made literally hundreds of times in his years of advocacy to a handwringing media insisting everyone just calm down and go home and let the lawyers at the Department of Justice take care of things.
Nevertheless the problem persist decades later: time and again, before there's been any concrete changes, policy proposals, or restitution to victims of injustice, those in power evoke abstract notions of "healing," "unity" and "peace" to shut up activists and act as of it the work is done right before pivoting back to business as usual.
On this week's episode we will examine the origins of the concepts of "unity" as a political PR gambit, detail how concepts of "healing" which can are very useful in grassroots and interpersonal psychological contexts have been cynically appropriated by those in power, and breakdown how media consumers can avoid the shallow allure of "peace" and "unity" rhetoric in the face of routine, everyday racism, violence, exploitation, and injustice.
Our guest is Lara Kiwani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC).