“Declaration of Unity” Calls for Racial Justice and Migrant Rights

“Calling the border crossers, footsteps mourning lost homelands. Calling beautiful black men, beating hearts stilled by police bullets. Calling incarcerated mothers, milk souring behind bars. Calling the forgotten bodies, seeping sorrow into the Mediterranean. Calling indigenous peoples, displaced in their own lands . . .”

Released last week, the Declaration of Unity is an urgent call for solidarity between movements for racial justice and migrant rights. Written by NoViolet Bulawayo and commissioned as part of Until We Are All Free, an arts and culture-based racial justice initiative launched last year, the Declaration is available in multiple languages and has been signed by artists and activists such as Teju Cole, Junot Díaz, Roxane Gay, Janet Mock, Angelica Salas, and Jose Antonio Vargas.

There is overwhelming context underscoring the need for this call to action: just recently, police brutality took the life of Keith Lamont Scott while he was reading a book and waiting for his son after school, the Obama Administration announced it will expedite the deportation of thousands of Haitian asylum seekers, and a federal appeals court ruled that Central American refugee children do not have a right to a court-appointed lawyer. As hate crimes against American Muslims continue to rise at alarming rates, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments are fueled by the Trump campaign, and the criminalization and dehumanization of communities of color continues through violence against black women and girls, raids and deportations, and police brutality, the Declaration of Unity reminds us how to envision a world where we are all free.

The Declaration’s author, a Zimbabwean writer and Fellow at Stanford University, asks: what would it mean “to see and acknowledge and invest in the other(s)?” Drawing from experiences in her homeland, Bulawayo writes:

I am reminded that the Shona people of my beautiful Zimbabwean homeland answer to the greeting, ‘How are you?’ With ‘Tiripo kana muripo-o’ which literally translates to, ‘I am well, if you are well.’ It means, I see you; you are not invisible to me. It means, I am interested and invested in your well being, it means I recognize your humanity, and it is connected to mine.

In their book, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political, gender scholar Judith Butler and social anthropologist Athena Athanasiou argue that this recognizing and investing in the other(s) is an ethical and political responsibility. “I am not the only one who suffers and resists,” Butler argues, “and without you, I cannot conceive of my own struggle as a social and political struggle; without him or her, or even ‘we,’ I risk becoming restrictively communitarian, including only those whom I already belong as worthy of consideration.”  The liberation of the “I” then is inevitably bound up in the “we.”

The Declaration echoes this sentiment. It reminds us that when we are radically vulnerable and open to/with one another, we reject the neoliberal impulse of individualism. When we see the other as worthy and valuable, we reject the idea that some of us are expendable, that some of us do not deserve to enter into or exist in this country. It encourages us to follow in the footsteps of groups such as #ArabsforBlackPower—who recently released a Movement for Black Lives Solidarity Statement—and Black Lives Matter, who included a call to end all deportations in their 10-point platform. The Declaration not only reminds us that we can make another world possible, it teaches us how. It’s website features artwork and the Racial Justice Art & Story Sessions curriculum for sharing with community groups, classrooms, organizations, and on social media.

I know that the world the Declaration for Unity calls on us to envision does not yet exist but in times like this, it is helpful to be reminded that we can create ita world where as Bulawayo writes: “all chains are broken. And they take down the fence and dismantle the bars. And erase the lines and open the borders. And shatter the ceiling. And justice comes to our neighborhoods.”

I signed the Declaration. Join me and consider reading through the curriculum this week.

Header image by Mar Pascual.

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

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