If there are two sides, it is of the oppressors and oppressed. Yet we do not live in such a simplistic, binary world where everything can be Yes or No, Black or White, On or Off. Even among the oppressors and oppressed diagram, there are overlaps, nuances, complexities, oppressions and liberations – there are organic movements and complex mechanisms and Schrödinger’s cat-like relationships that do not fit into these binary mechanisms. Oppressors are often abused and the subjugated often suppress. But, especially in regards to politi-social conflicts, we are inundated with Both Sidesism. Both Sidesists alert us to the fact that both Democrats and Republicans, both liberals and conservatives, both Whites and Blacks, and both immigrants and natives are wrong. Each side of whatever conflict is currently under the microscope, BS says, is equally to blame.
The most obvious and overheard comparisons of recent were between the two main contenders for the United States presidency who, according to Both Sidesists, are of equal evils. Yet while both have their deep flaws and both involved in social and economic actions that are hurtful to the most poor and vulnerable, to say that one is as deeply flawed as the other (“Sure, Donald Trump has bragged about sexual assault and is being credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors even as he’s threatened intimate violence and detention against Muslims and Latinx immigrants, but Clinton has emails!”) is completely disingenuous as well as functionally inoperable. How can we have a society that works if we can’t tell the difference between a qualified candidate and a woefully unqualified narcissist? Additionally, it not only misses the needed critiques of Clinton (neocon interventionalism, neoliberal fusing of government and corporations through nonprofit sectors including her own, and support for hyper-criminalization of black and poor people) for fake ones (BENGHAZI!), which makes it harder to move forward with progressive actions for liberation.
Democratic apologists are also guilty of this False Binary rhetoric, though in an altered way. By removing the Clintons and Obama from critique on economic and immigration issues because of how much worse “the other side” is – and thus arguing that the Obamas and Clintons are on the ‘right side’ and shouldn’t be protested against, often conflating the *right* or *wrong* side with racial and gender essentialism – they have decided to use working class and Latinx populations and their pressing needs as political footballs.
On a fundamental level, binaries simplify and squash substantial distinctions. It is impossible to have an honest conversation with those who accuse Black activists of the same levels of violence that White people have committed against Black and other People of Color. The Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter groups are thus reduced to violent reactionaries on par with the KKK, despite the very fact that the BPP and BLM operate as constructive ways for dispossessed people to resist systemic racist violence of the state. Whereas the KKK was born of the violence of enforcing racial codes. They may be related, but they are not at all similar.
Additionally, false binaries place the accusation of violence upon the recipients of violence. It allows sexual and domestic abuse survivors to be blamed as if they are willful participants in their victimation. Completely ahistorical and groundless equivalencies are not without precedent themselves. Then-governor of California Ronald Reagan and FBI Director J Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers “Enemy Number 1.” Previously, Hoover had put Martin Luther King, Jr. under heavy surveillance and tried to intimidate him to commit suicide. These were both in the era of the Ku Klux Klan and the *nicer* White Citizens Councils.
Grossly, Both Sidesism allows participants to pretend that they care about violence enacted upon oppressed communities, allowing the oppressed – or at least some of their allies – to believe that they may have sympathetic ears. Because, you know, they agree that the KKK are racist killers. But then the other shoe drops. False Binarism is an entrapment scheme of the most dishonest order.
Finally, False Equivalences allow us to make calls for one-sided unity, whereupon the oppressed and the oppressors must meet under the terms and conditions of the oppressors. We are told to unite behind a misogynistic, bullying, White Supremacist, ego-maniacal capitalist in his fake bid to become president simply because – against his own odds – he became president. Does it matter that such calls of unity come at the price of the death of our own selves, our friends and communities, our souls? Rather, these pleas of uniformity compile the worst that America has to offer and compel us to normalize them whole, to accept the genocides and humans-as-property apologia that America was founded on as the natural and right order of things. We must resist, for the sake of our individual and collective souls.
Do not demand or acquiesce to unity. Demand and practice solidarity.