Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Am I My Brothers' (And Sisters') Keeper?

The principle for the third day of Kwanzaa is Ujima, or "collective work and responsibility". 

The metaphorical jury in my head is still out on whether any random Black person has some larger responsibility to Black peoples everywhere, to "give back" to communities s/he may or may not have been raised by, to represent "the race" in a "positive" light, or (and I struggle with this last bit) even to associate with the larger "community". A year ago, I would have unequivocally said yes to all of those statements, but since then my understandings of personal freedom, choice, and statements about what anyone "should" or "should not" be/do have grown immensely, and I'm no longer comfortable putting restrictions or regulations on anyone's sense of self and personal responsibility. Who am I to say what anyone else should do or be? I claim no authority over others.

So how can I talk about doing things collectively as a principle? How does this principle even sit with me? Well, firstly, doing work for and of Black peoples is important to me. Though I don't know if I HAVE to, I do feel a responsibility for talking about Blackness as a personal and a collective experience, which broadens into a feeling of responsibility for tackling issues pertaining to experiences of Blackness, person-of-color-ness, womanness, non-dominant-sexual-orientation-ness, and other minority experiences in this country. It would make me happy if everyone felt this need to tell their own stories and the stories of those who are often left out. To me, it seems that would be our collective responsibility as human beings, that all our brethren and all their struggles might be recognized as legitimate and significant. I'm not demanding selflessness, and maybe this is just a product of having been raised in a Judeo-Christian society, but I just can't see excessive greed as a productive means of life in modern society. I can't say that people of any certain race have a responsibility to other members of that same race, but I think it's pretty obvious that we as humans are responsible to humanity. Let's work on that.

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