There can’t be reconciliation if we don’t start with the truth around the structural issues that got us here in the first place.
The very idea of accountability—particularly political accountability—feels like trying to reach out and grab hold of a mirage. Over the past year alone, the United States has been home to a president who has incited white supremacist violence and made disinformation a cornerstone of his time in office, among many other violations. Police murdered Breonna Taylor in her home and George Floyd on the street, two of too many examples of police brutality, violence, and systemic racism with no accountability. There’s been next to no federal response to COVID, even doctors have dabbled in spreading disinformation, and the painless act of wearing a mask to the grocery store in order to protect each other has been spun as a signal of political ideology and statement-making, even as the pandemic surges on.
Yet we continue carrying about our days—because, in a society where healthcare is tied to our jobs and childcare is too often dependent on whether schools are open, what choice is there, really? And while the pandemic certainly added a layer that exacerbated existing inequities, not all of this is new. Racism and white supremacy aren’t sudden side effects of the Trump administration; they’re embedded in America’s societal fabric and structures. Some politicians have never been fully accountable to anyone, let alone the constituents they’re supposed to represent and communities they’re supposed to serve. Continued calls to “move on” and “unite” conveniently ignore that for Black people, immigrants, for LGBTQ+ people, for people who are marginalized, uniting essentially means shaking the hand of those who have no regard for your life, and in a lot of cases, actively work against you. As Jhumpa Bhattacharya, vice president of programs and strategy at Insight Center for Community Economic Development, pointed out, the question that pops up in these conversations—what’s the consequence for choosing unity over accountability?—poses a false dichotomy. “There is no true unity without accountability. Period,” she says. Defining accountability is necessary to justice, but that also means defining truth, who we are accountable to, and who we listen to.