Kwanzaa Day 3 - Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility

Updated: Jan 28

I’ve meant to do this in the past but never felt I had the right outlet or platform for it. Now that I’ve finally got my own site it’s definitely the right time. I’ll be celebrating Kwanzaa by writing a new piece every day for 7 days based on each of the 7 principles and what they have meant to me this past year and how I’ll be incorporating these principles in the future.

Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility - To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and solve them together.

Throughout the years I’ve been a part of many communities and tribes in some form or another. You can always break down everyone into smaller and smaller groups just to closer to something. For instance: recently I worked at a bank and initially the in-store division where I worked was a part of a separate district and therefore things were slightly different there regarding regulations. So from the top down, we were employees of the company, then bankers, then bankers in a specific city/district, store and then there were managers of varying degrees and not. When discussing business we had specific things to say and do between bankers and looking out for each other to make sales quotas. Managers had specific meetings and information they could only discuss amongst themselves, then district managers, you get where I’m going. There’s always these divisions and this is only regarding one company in one city! If we bring race and gender into the situation we can splinter even more, and yet, we’re still all supposed to be working for the betterment of the company as a whole. No matter how big or small the role, it was always supposed to make the company better because WE were the company. (So to speak. We’ll get to my position on billion-dollar companies, banks and other things like that another day. For now, there’s a meaning behind this example.)

One thing I actually loved about the company was that each June we celebrated Pride month and it was a pretty big deal. We had flyers, banners, a brand new card for the LGBTQIA+ community, sponsorships at the Pride parade, trinkets we could give away and even, my favorite, a special Pride T-shirt we could order and wear each Friday of the month. I loved my shirt because it was one of my favorite colors (Yankee blue to match my fitted hat) and I also love to piss off homophobes. While I may not be gay or fit into the LGBTQIA+ community as a member, I do stand up for their rights just as I would my own. People would come into the bank and being down south, some would get upset about our decor and threatened to close their accounts due to our alignment with that community. I loved nothing more than upset those people smiling bright with my Pride shirt on while wanting them to tell me at length why they had such a problem with what we were doing. I never really got that full explanation in my 4 years there and mostly I just heard they didn’t agree and left it at that. Worked for me, find another bank.

Maybe around my second year, I started hearing rumblings from some of our Black patrons. They (legitimately) questioned if we were doing the same things for Black History Month and to be honest, no, it wasn’t the same. There were signs to put up and a couple of flyers but nothing as substantive as with Pride month. A few of those people would confide in me that they didn’t think it was right to do one and not the other .and I asked why? To make a long story short, I got an All Lives Matter level answer from those people and my response probably shocked them.

Black and Brown people are LGBTQIA+, too. So when I celebrate for the queer community, I’m also standing up for people who look like me within it.

Recently I was having a conversation with someone about how when it comes to defending us as people, this person jumps to Black first, then being a man/woman and then down the line from there. Not gay, not anything else first, but Black first. At first, I tried to think of a reason why this was flawed reasoning but eventually, I came to realize that it’s pretty sound, at least for me. Our people need to be seen as valid in all walks of life. We’re unjustly murdered by police, we’re demonized over our natural hair, our children are sexualized for just existing and ALSO, there are those of us who are queer, and fat, and disabled, and trans, and, and, and, etc. How on earth are we supposed to unite our communities if we’re separating ourselves due to sexual orientation when we have enough issues that are more important? Why would you not want to help those people around you in your neighborhoods, your family, because of who they ARE? When you walk away from them, go home and go about your day, their orientation doesn’t play any part in your life at all, so why get into thinking they need to be derided, beaten up and not loved?

When those forces outside of our own communities come for us, they don’t care one way or another what little boxes we’ve decided to put us in, they just know we’re divided and they can pick us off so much easier when we’re fighting ourselves because we’re supposed to be our biggest allies and instead we’re hurting ourselves because…? I honestly can’t say. But I know I would rather fight for someone that’s going to fight for me when I don’t have the strength to and that’s going to make all of us stronger. The problems of our brothers, sisters and those in-between and in the margins are my own. I will bridge the gap and bring us all closer together to fight for us all to have an equity stake in this thing called life. I don’t want to see any person oppressed any more than I would hope they wouldn’t want to see the same of me. I don’t care about who lives on what block, on what street, side of town, city, state, or anything like that. Just like at the bank, we’re supposed to be doing all that we do for the betterment of the company. WE are our own company and all of our parts should make us stronger. But we’re not going to get there by working against each other. So yes, I will start with helping us, FIRST and be accepting to those of us who are good just to be good.

And I want to specifically add an addendum regarding our women. I’ve already spoken on the lack of respect Black women get and while I’m not perfect, I strive to be better with every passing day. I saw something recently online that said, (paraphrasing) “Black men hate on single mothers with multiple kids but swear their own mom is the strongest woman on earth.” That kind of disconnect is something I’m trying to repair. We can’t look down on the women who are creating our lives and defending us all because they don’t fit into a category we deem worthy. Your version of a person is not the only one that demands respect but please do respect those and think closely before trying to disparage a woman, period. And I don’t want to write one who looks like your mom, sister, etc. because that shouldn’t matter. They’re PEOPLE just like us and that’s all the justification needed.

How do I make my brothers' and sisters' problems my problems and solve them together? By defending them even when they’re not around. By protecting our children. By advocating for those who have things to lose. By fighting oppression. By advocating for anti-racism. By calling our anti-Blackness. By speaking up. By writing. By arguing with friends and family who still hold on to antiquated views and letting them know that they won’t be tolerated anymore. I’m going to be the change they need in the world because long before I was here, other people made changes for me without knowing I ever existed and the least I can do is thank them by continuing to unite our people. ALL people. It’s not only a right because we weren’t given them here; it is a responsibility.