“One of us.”
One of us. One of ours. Our own. We claim them. We look out for them. We protect them.
When the axe came into the forest, the trees said, ‘The handle is one of us.'”
The apostle Paul writes, “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” Zora Neale Hurston’s version is similar: “All my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.”
And all three sayings acknowledge in their own contexts the distance between demographics and community.
A person can be part of a demographic category without participating in the world of experience that members of their demographic create. A tool may be composed of the same wood as a forest yet become part of the forest’s destruction.
Jewish functionaries in the Third Reich’s concentration camps shared the same backgrounds as the Jews they governed on behalf of the SS: they were prisoners too, just prisoners with privileges, responsibilities, and the ability to cause others occasional benefits and grave harms.
“One of us” sold off villages during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. “One of us” argued against integration on the basis that the races were not equal and shouldn’t seek to be. “One of us” sits on the Supreme Court today, denying that racism still impacts Black people in this country.
“One of us” and “one of ours” are no comfort at all unless they can mean something more substantive than the accidents of birth and proximity that compose “common identity.”
When we move beyond our aspirational tales about fictive kinship and we-are-family, we gain the space to examine exactly what solidarity means.
So what does it mean for a humanist to insist that all people are valuable when all people don’t believe that, demonstrate through policy, word, and action that they don’t believe it, and may never believe it?