Hey White Allies: Kwanzaa Can Help You Reflect on Your Work Too
Reflecting on some key questions puts you at no risk of cultural appropriation, and may boost your allyship in the new year.
photo by Lucas Thors
The holiday Kwanzaa, a multi-day event lasting from Christmas to New Years — was created to encourage to foster celebration, reflection and recommitment to the causes of equity and spiritual renewal among people from the African diaspora. The core principles of Kwanzaa, commonly expressed in Swahili and usually talked about with respect to black people, have actually been designed to have universal application to any person or group concerned with making the world a better place.
At the end of a tumultuous year in race relations, anti-racism allies could benefit from some additional reflection on how their work might be strengthened going forward. The Kwanzaa principles, one of which is highlighted every day of the celebration, can apply to the four questions that allies should consider central to effective and sustainable anti-racism allyship. Each of these four questions begins with the phrase: How are my thoughts and actions helping me…
1. sustain my own anti-racism effectiveness?
2. provide support for people from racially oppressed communities?
3. move effectively moved racism skeptics to a better understanding of racism against people of color?
4. support and grow the community of effective anti-racism allies?
As we will see over the next several days, each principle of Kwanzaa has implications for one or more of these important questions that anti-racism allies should always be keeping mind.
Kwanzaa Day 1, December 26, Umoja- (unity): “To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.” Umoja urges a moral sensitivity and caring kinship with each other, other human beings, all living beings, and with the world itself.
One of the most common mistakes that anti-racism allies make is to bring a spirit of judgement and condescension to their interactions with the racism skeptics in their lives. In doing so, they are choosing to indulge a false sense of superiority instead of tapping into the humility that is more effective in persuading people. When doing persuasive work, it is important that allies come from the stance that they are not fundamentally different than people who have racially problematic attitudes; a more useful stance is that the anti-racism ally and the racism skeptic are only different in degree.
On this day that highlights Umoja (unity), anti-racism allies would be well served by spending a few moments thinking about their sense of connection to racism skeptics in their circle. Make a mental or written list of the racism skeptics in your world. By making this list, you are inherently focusing on what is different between you and them. After you make the list, think about what you have in common with each of them, and let the compassion created by this sense of oneness with them fill your heart as much as possible.
This is one of the many ironies of the work of the anti-racism ally: to create the racially unified world we want, it is important to adopt a stance of deep connection to those we “oppose” because we think they are helping maintain racial divisions. If we see them as separate from ourselves and look down on them for being “racist” in ways we are not, we make it harder to persuade them. Only through seeing ourselves as united with them — including having been influenced by racist teachings — can we effectively invite them to see the fulsome sense of racial unity that we know is possible.