Standing United: A Rhetoric Major’s Reflection

August 9, 2014, a young man was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. The young man was an unarmed black teenager. The man with the gun was a white police officer. Thus, the start of the Black Lives Matter Movement.[1]

December 20, 2014, 2 NYPD Officers were killed in Brooklyn, New York. The 2 officers were sitting in their patrol car. The man with the same gun later committed suicide. Thus, the response of Blue Lives Matter.[2]

January 12, 2015, an affiliated professor from UC Berkeley was interviewed about the slogan “All Lives Matter.” In the interview, she says this: “When some people rejoin with ‘All Lives Matter’ they misunderstand the problem, but not because their message is untrue. It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter, which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered, and are struggling to matter in the way they deserve…I mean only to say that we cannot have a race-blind approach to the questions: which lives matter? Or, which lives are worth valuing? If we jump too quickly to the universal formulation, ‘all lives matter,’ then we miss the fact that black people have not yet been included in the idea of ‘all lives.’ That said, it is true that all lives matter…But to make that universal formulation concrete, to make that into a living formulation, one that truly extends to all people, we have to foreground those lives that are not mattering now, to mark that exclusion, and militate against it. Achieving that universal, ‘all lives matter,’ is a struggle, and that is part of what we are seeing on the streets.”[3]

April 12, 2015, Hillary Clinton announces her presidential campaign. The slogan that she settled on: Stronger Together.

June 16, 2015, Donald Trump announces his presidential campaign. His slogan would be: Make America Great Again.

Images like the following flooded the political space on campus and pleaded with a divided campus and nation to be otherwise. Despite all the hate and violence that materialized on our campus, there was a deep desire and hope for something better. A rather relieving word but nonetheless a difficult one, is “united.”

Standing United

Truly, it seems that the rhetoric on campus is pointing to a great need. The leftmost picture challenges her audience to think what is meant by “we the people.” Who counts as part of this “we”? Who is taken for granted to belong, and consequently, who doesn’t get to share in that privilege, if we can call it that. The rightmost image is posted all over local businesses here in Berkeley and it makes a clearer message that everyone is welcome here. The statement is made clear that even the ones whom society and media have tried to marginalize and discriminate against are part of a greater whole; they are part of everyone. Both the side pictures point to a need for some sense of unity that is not yet the reality of our social political space. Both pictures point to a need to re-evaluate who belongs and who doesn’t; to challenge the rhetoric that separates the one and the other; to challenge that separation itself. The possibility of a “we” and an “everyone” is the first bit of hope in what seems to be a polarized and politically irreconcilable present. A call for unity seems appropriate, but the question is how to do so without furthering the chasmal divide.

This brings me to the center poster that has been proliferating on campus and in the city of Berkeley. It is obvious in its highlights that “united” is the word to take away from the poster. It is a call for Berkeley to stand united, to stand together. This is a genuinely important stance to have during such times of animosity and violence. However, I want to propose although the message of standing together is a pertinent one, the call to stand united against is potentially a little problematic. Although nothing is necessarily wrong with standing against something that is wrong, the implications of the word “against” reiterates the divided and polarizing environment we are looking to transcend. To be clear, this is not to say that it is wrong to stand against hate or against anything that is wrong. In fact, standing up for what is right and so also against what is wrong is a good thing, but perhaps, not one that will move political and social discourse to addressing the greater need.

If the need is to be united and to see the potentiality of a “we” and an “everyone” that is inclusive of all people, then the language of “against” might not be the most appropriate. What I want to suggest is a change in proposition. It is true that the hatred and violence that propagate is also something that we need to address. To both those, the intuitive and unintuitive response is to love. The greater need not only for this campus but also the greater political and social space is a need to love. The call to love is equally as important as, if not more important than, just a call against hate. It is a call to change. It may be easier to say and point out what is wrong with the world that we live in, but it is a more difficult thing to be the change that we want to see. A call to love is different than a call against hate in that one points out a wrong while the other does right. Both are important, but one is perhaps more productive to the change that we are striving for.

The suggestion here is this: Berkeley stands united in love. At the end of the day, pointing out everything wrong in the world is not going to solve the problem. Granted, it is a much needed first step to expose the wrong for what it is and why it is hurtful to society, but that cannot be the end of the discussion. We are a community that already pointed to and argued for all the wrong that has been done. The next step is to respond, and to respond in a way that will continue the discourse and bring about change. If we can move past the rhetoric of differences, then maybe we can begin talking about what it means to be united and what it means to love.

As a Christian, the Bible offers an interesting account of the relationship between unity and love. Often times, Christians refer to each other as brothers and sisters, and more so, they refer to themselves as a body, or the Church. This body of people is interesting because they are united by love. Agape is what Christians say love is, and it is often understood as a selfless love, a love that is in essence benevolent and charitable. It is a love that opens up the possibility for seeing “the other”—no matter what race, ethnicity, age, or any other category or label we have for one another—as part of a larger body that all have a responsibility towards—almost as family. Granted, in so far as this world is imperfect, and human beings are imperfect, it is a shared struggle even for Christians to love selflessly and charitably. Thus, the greatest struggle is learning and relearning what it means to love for the best way to stand up against hate is to stand united in love.

 

1 https://www.thenation.com/article/origins-of-a-movement/

2 https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/nyregion/two-police-officers-shot-in-their-patrol-car-in-brooklyn.html?mcubz=3

3 https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/12/whats-wrong-with-all-lives-matter/

4 https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/1*EdU-jF4Vk8o5cGSLrvVhfQ.jpeg

5 https://www.berkeleyside.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/poster.jpg

6 https://static1.squarespace.com/static/52f93b58e4b03018f9550664/t/5830aba746c 3c4d861790967/1479585619867/everyone-welcome-bazant-sml-color.jpg

 

Victoria Lai is a graduating senior double majoring in Philosophy and Rhetoric. She is a self proclaimed foodie and loves all things philosophical. Her preferred method of payment is milk tea.

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