One of the most eye-opening moments in my life was when I was sitting in the audience of Marc Lamont Hill speaking on Martin Luther King Day. I initially didn’t know what to expect but he eventually let me stunned as he ended the speech about activism and the concept of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu has become a very important concept in the formation of my political identity, especially for collectivist communities. Some people would quickly refer to it as African Socialism but that isn’t completely correct. It’s a little more nuanced than that. It’s not about putting the community before the individual but the understanding of the interconnectedness of a community.
Michael Eze in the Intellectual History in Contemporary South Africa wrote, “‘A person is a person through other people.’ strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”
In layman’s terms, Ubuntu is the understanding that your humanity and existence is connected to millions of people who existed before you and that will come after you. We are all interconnected, so our actions have consequences on those around us. This diverges from “westernized socialism” because it gives room for different people to excel in different areas instead of each person being forced into the same functions. If you are doing well in the community making posters and I work well in a paper company, we both can benefit greatly from each other’s success.
How does that connect to collectivist communities in America and politics? Ubuntu works extremely well with collective wealth building in communities. In my case, the Black community has shown a history of working together and building wealth that is eventually taken away forcefully. In recent years, we’ve seen expedited loss of Black Businesses either failed or sold off. Our communities have very little remaining that is ours as we’ve slowly became an individualistic community without the stability or resources to match it.
What happened? Why have we lost our footing in the world. My grandmother has constantly referred to a portion of our population as crabs in a barrel (You don’t need to put a lid on a barrel full of crabs because as one climbs out, the others pull it back down.) The scary part is that I’ve seen it happen before. People from the neighborhood broke into the only black business left in my neighborhood, a Pharmacy that has been there for 50 years, and stole thousands of dollars of medicine to sell on the street. This is the same black owned pharmacy that delivers medicine to the elderly in the community when they can’t get out, free of charge.
There is a huge problem with where many communities in the US are at now. A vast majority of aid is drying up and it doesn’t look like a minimum wage rise is coming. The cost of schooling has increased by a factor of three, a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee a job anymore, and Politicians believe that everyone should just drive Uber and rent out their houses to make up for company’s refusal to give more benefits and wages. Now, more than ever, is the time that we really need each other.
I’ve been doing reading about different religions, cultures, and plights for the past few months. I have realized that there is very little difference between us all. This becomes clear as we all claw for food, healthcare, education, and security. This is a time where we need to step out of our comfort zone and connect with others different from you. It doesn’t have to be a competition anymore. We all are in a fight to survive and we can do more with than without each other. “I am because we are.” but more importantly, “We can.”
Turn Your Brightness Up!