Kwanzaa Day 5 – Nia – Purpose

Today, I offer a belated reflection on the fifth Kwanzaa principle, Nia, “Purpose”

Traditionally speaking, Nia requires us to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Traditional Greatness?

I’m assuming that the traditional greatness Nia imagines refers to the traditions of African communities on the continent. This is an uncomfortable starting point for LGBT folk. Homosexuality is illegal in over 50 African countries, and several Caribbean ones, despite the incredible work of activists on the continent and in the diasporas. History texts are usually written from a patriarchal heterosexist lens and do little to shed light on the experiences of ancient folk who would now be considered “LGBT” – at least in North America.

Where does a queer Afrikan find out about our traditional greatness, in order to ground our Purpose?

The Sankofa practice – loosely translated as the importance of looking back in order to go forward – gives me a little bit of allowance to take bits (lessons, lore, practices) from the past to guide future steps.

For example, here are three traditions that I have learned from my family that help me live Nia.

  1. Collective Problem-Solving: My mother tells me that when she was a child, and there was ever a problem that needed to be discussed, it would be done around a table, at a family meeting. She laments that families don’t do this as much now and she deeply believes in putting everything out on the table and then figuring out a solution. I think that this tradition is beautiful and critical for problems in families, communities, nations and beyond. I don’t know it’s origin, but I do know that as the branches of my family tree extend, we will strive to continue this practice. The act of gathering to solve a problem collectively offers opportunities for individuals to bring their strengths to the table for the collective good.
  2. Eldership: I was taught to respect my elders and to honour the wisdom that comes with age. I strive to remain in a place of respect. There are, of course, instances where that respect wanes or disappears altogether. That is, there are some older adults, who, because of their behaviours can no longer assume eldership status and don’t deserve my deference.
  3. Discipline and Routine: Another lesson I learned from my parents, and that is reflected in my relatives is routine and discipline. My parents lead lives rich in ritual and discipline. It’s amazing. Because there are certain things that remain unchanged despite the passing decades, they are in some ways like a well-oiled machine. While in my youth, this used to bother me a bit, because I equated it with inflexibility (still true in some instances) I also see how discipline and routine can free up creative energies for other things. For example, my mother wrote a book – a spiritual autobiography called Jesus Opened my Eyes – Faith Alive – in her 70s while continuing her everyday routine in the home.

Practising collective problem-solving, honouring eldership and cultivating discipline have roots that trace back to an Afrikan past somewhere, and can support development of Purpose.

Traditional Greatness Reloaded?

What if Nia was equally about developing Purpose through the creation of new traditional greatness? What if we imagined forward?

Nia: To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to, and beyond, their traditional greatness.

Afrofturism does this for me. Take a look at this image for example:

lady_sankofa_iii_by_mase0ne-d8j8xca

This is Lady Sankofa, as imagined by artist James Mason for the Onyxcon Convention, a place where, as eloquently expressed by Ingrid LaFleur and Wanuri Kahiu in their talks on Afrofuturism, the traditional greatness of the past meets speculative technologies of the future.

Such reloaded Nia is reflected in the work of Afrikan academics and activists such as Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Dr. Breeze Harper who are reimagining ways forward while maintaining a mindfulness of various traditions. Sankofa in action. Follow the links to look more at their work.

The work of these women are a reminder that the term ‘technology’ is not limited to hard tech like computers, phones, vehicles or dwellings, but it also refers to soft tech, like the technology of community, family, relationships and self. Imagining and reimagining ways to survive, heal and grow. This is where I want my practice of Nia to be situated.

Nia Challenge: Invest in individuals who are dedicating their talents to producing new traditions in which all of us can ground in Purpose.

Thanks for reading!

Happy Kwanzaa!

#kwanzaaeveryday

 

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Kwanzaa Day 4 – Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics

Ujamaa urges us to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and profit from them together…

The problem is Afrikan owned businesses, restaurants, newspapers, clubs, and other spaces are often the least safe for Afrikans within LGBT communities.

Often we feel compelled to support Afrikan businesses in the name of unity even though those businesses actively discriminate against those of us in the LGBT communities.

So: I’ll get back to this post when I can identify an Afrikan-owned establishment in Canada that actively confronts patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism…

Happy to be proven wrong. In fact, I wish for it.

Ujamaa challenge: Identify Afrikan-owned businesses to support in 2016.

 

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Kwanzaa Day 3: UJIMA – Collective Work & Responsibility

Today, I honour the third Kwanzaa principle – Ujima – meaning Collective Work and Responsibility.

Ujima in Action – Right now!

Ujima desires freedom and wellness. Three of my current teachers on the Ujima principle are Black Witch Chronicles, Tomee Sojourner and Nalo Hopkinson.

Black Witch Chronicles – Collective Healing through Indigenous Practices

The Black Witch Chronicles, a spiritual collective of Afrikan women dedicated growth and well-being of the global movement of healers, artists, changemakers, and visionaries. 

In a recent interview the Black Witches discussed the powerful transformation that occurs when we reconnect to indigenous knowledge, despite the backlash we experience from our communities based on our internalized aversion to darkness and the demonization of earth-based spiritual practices led by women.

Lakeesha Harris of Sojourner’s Healing Room read a powerful poem from The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural called “We Organized”.  You can find the poem online, but I would recommend listening to it in the audio recording of the interview for a better experience.

Tomee Sojourner – Collective Responses to Consumer Racial Profiling

Tomee Sojourner is a mediator, consultant and interdisciplinary legal researcher currently examining consumer racial profiling at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She recently discussed her work in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star.

In the past few years, as Afrikan communities in North America have struggled with  and resisted the violence experience in our communities at the hands of law enforcement officers. ‘Racial profiling’ is a term generally associated with this violence.

Consumer racial profiling refers to another experience faced by a broad variety of Afrikans and people of colour. Sojourner describes this phenomenon as:

discriminatory practice where a security guard, and/or a store employee draws on unconscious biases, and negative stereotypes about particular racialized groups, to target racialized consumers with increased surveillance.

The elimination of consumer racial profiling requires that we practice Ujima – to collectively understand, recognize and respond to these occurrences until they end.

Not only am I excited by Tomee’s work, but I also have the privilege of watching it and supporting it as it unfolds since in addition to being a thought leader and brilliant comrade, she is also my fiancee!

Nalo Hopkinson – Fabulist, Speculative and Science Fiction as Social Justice Praxis

Nalo Hopkinson is a writer of science fiction novels, short stories and essays that draw from Afrikan indigenous knowledges from the various diaspora. Nalo’s work was first introduced to me by a friend, children’s author, artist and educator Nadia Hohn.

In a recent interview with Hopkinson on race and gender in science fiction,  Nalo talked about a friend of hers, writer Tobias Buckell, who was once told that Caribbean people didn’t have the intellect or technology to make it into space. She also recounted a story of a student who struggled to imagine a futuristic world that included Afrikan peoples.

Nalo’s stories are all about Ujima. Her work places people exactly like me in other dimensions and  asks me to consider what contributions I will make, and what risks I will take to help heal the collective.

Ujima’s Goal:  Freedom

The whole point of Ujima is freedom and wholeness. Our communities need to be well, to be made whole. We need to do this together.

But, as we know, one aspect of wellness is choice. And “wholeness is no trifling matter“. Getting free, becoming well and whole requires hard work; the first step of which is to critically examine the collective.

For a beautiful and challenging Ujima read, enjoy Mia McKenzie‘s The Summer We Got Free (check out this awesome interview  by CF Moya of the Crunk Feminist Collective)

This year’s Ujima challenge takes us to the darkness of our own movements. It asks us to look at who we keep in the shadows there and to learn from and enjoy the powerful transformative connections that await.

Ujima challenge: Reflect on who is and isn’t a part of collective. Can we achieve wholeness if they are excluded? If not, take steps to correct the omission.

 

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Kwanzaa Day 2: KUJICHAGULIA – SELF-DETERMINATION

Today, I honour Kujichagulia, which means ‘Self-Determination’ in Swahili.

Kujichagulia for Afrikan Queer and Transfolk

Anyone who has gone through a transition in their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression comes face-to-face with this Kwanzaa principle.

Afrikan queer and transfolks never stop coming out. Self-determination is a lifelong practice for us. At best, it’s an everyday positive affirmation of self.

Queer and transfolk may have a better understanding of Kujichagulia’s importance simply because we are expected to explain (and in some cases, justify) our identities to others on a regular basis.

The 3 ‘Traditional’ Self-Determination Questions

The observance of Kujichagulia, particularly the questions it calls us to ask, can promote self-acceptance and healing. The three traditional questions are:

  • Who am I?
  • Am I really who I say I am?
  • Am I all that I ought to be?

These questions are a good start for folks exploring self-determination because they focus on how a person defines themself, not how other people do.

When combined with shame and fear – common feelings for those coming out as queer or trans – these questions can lead to harm. While words like “really” and “ought” can empower a person to be their authentic self, they can just as equally suggest that a person is lying to the world about who they are, or that they are not everything that they should be.

This is not an uncommon experience, for example, for middle-aged Afrikan bisexual folks who face criticism when they begin new relationships with people of a gender different from their former partner’s.

3 ‘New’ Self-Determination Questions

Queer and transfolks could benefit from more Kujichagulia questions. This is especially true for queer and trans youth who are trying to find their rightful place along the intersecting spectra of Afrikanness, sexuality and gender.

Kujichagulia questions should support people who are trying on different identities to see which one(s) are right for them at any given time.

For that reason, I would add the following questions to the mix:

  • Who have I been?
  • How did I become this self?
  • Are there other selves I should pay attention to?

Transitions are a part of life. Some transitions are easier than others. The additional Kujichagulia questions normalize change, and encourage us to develop new ways of identifying and expressing ourselves.

Because self-determination can be difficult for Afrikan queer and transfolks dealing with the heterosexism, transphobia and homophobia in our communities, let alone outside, this year’s Kujichagulia challenge is very gentle and super quick.

It can also spark creativity and release joy, as depicted in the Daughter’s of the Moon card for the One of Flames.

Kujichagulia Challenge:

At least once this year, maybe even right now, ask yourself the six Kujichagulia questions.

  1. Who am I?
  2. Am I really who I say I am?
  3. Am I all that I ought to be?
  4. Who have I been?
  5. How did I become this self?
  6. Are there other selves I should pay attention to?

 

Thank you for reading! Happy Kwanzaa.

#kwanzaaeveryday

 

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Kwanzaa Day 1: UMOJA – UNITY

Years ago, after coming out to my family as non-heterosexual, I left Christianity in search of a spiritual practice that embraced all of who I am. Kwanzaa found me during that search. That’s why I celebrate it faithfully every year.

Today, I honour Umoja, which means ‘Unity’ in Swahili and is the first principle of the Nguzo Saba.

Umoja is misunderstood.

A mentor once challenged my use of the term unity as a goal for Afrikan communities. He asked me if we truly need to be united in order to advance?

I took his point.

Unity, Umoja, is a concept often misused, usually in times of conflict, by people and organizations seeking to influence the thoughts, values, and actions of others. That’s why so many of our leaders and celebrities get away with rape and other forms of violence.

Our misunderstanding of unity combined with our fear of abandonment prevents us from holding people properly accountable for their wrongdoing.

Observing Kwanzaa and reflecting on Umoja provide us with alternative ways to be together.

Umoja in My Life

My first observation of Kwanzaa had all the things I wanted in a holiday: ritual, food, coming together, and dance. Since I was celebrating with other queer folks of colour, our identities were front and centre. No need to kiss our partners quickly in secret or to tone down our fabulousness.

At the time, I had never been in a spiritual space with other Afrikans who, like me, had same-sex partners. The possibilities of ‘home’ were endless and it deeply enriched me. That was my first true experience of Umoja.

My most recent experience of Umoja  was yesterday, ironically, at a family Christmas gathering. It had all the things I wanted in a holiday: ritual, food, coming together, community values. My fiancee and I were likely the only non-heterosexual people in the room and heads were bowed in Christian prayer. But somewhere along the way, that has become less of a deal-breaker for me.

I’ve come to understand Umoja as a process.

As I looked around the room yesterday, especially as I saw my mother embrace my fiancee, I felt a deeper sense of home and unity than I did the first time I celebrated Kwanzaa.

My mom and I don’t need to have the same beliefs as one another in order to experience unity, and to follow the Umoja path.

Multiple truths can (and do) exist simultaneously.

Unity is the process by which we accept this and use the power gained by this as a way to advance together as colleagues, comrades, lovers, families, communities.

But, I’ve not completely figured this out. 

I see a problem with my reasoning.

If multiple truths are to exist simultaneously, then what about those so-called ‘truths’ which are morally or factually wrong? Those ‘truths’ that underpin oppression, for example?

Fair point. I’m not sure. That’s where I get stuck, especially when dealing with conflict. So, this year, I’ll spend some time on this question, and use it to frame my Umoja challenge.

Umoja Challenge:  When in conflict, attempt unity first.

What’s your Umoja reflection or challenge?

Thank you for reading!

Happy Kwanzaa.

#kwanzaaeveryday

 

 

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Life after being “Cyber-squatted”

So, I’ve been “cyber-squatted”.

A few months ago, I discovered that someone or something is impersonating me on the internet.

They/it bought a URL comprised of my full name, and created a fake relationship and sex etiquette blog, in which an entity calling itself “njeridamali” gives advice.

I have since found out that this phenomenon – when someone buys your identity and misuses it over the internet – is called “cyber-squatting”.

And, apparently, there isn’t much I can do about it except have awkward conversations with folks who are curious about why I would make such an odd life choice.

Well, I didn’t

There is life after being cyber-squatted.

Perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that I will now, in fact, be blogging about things, people, and ideas that interest me.

If you like any of the things I like: dreamwork, afrofuturism, graphic recording, the law, then I think you’ll enjoy this blog.

Welcome! Grab some tea, stay a while, and connect!

Consider this the one and only Njeri Damali Campbell standing up.

 

Life after being “Cyber-squatted”