Kujichagulia - Self Determination - to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Overview of Kujichagulia -
If we do not define ourselves for ourselves we will be crunched into other people’s fantasies for us and be eaten alive.
- Adapted from Audre Lorde Learning from the 60s
Kujichagulia calls us to embrace ownership over ourselves, our stories, and our destinies and to refuse to allow others to do it. It is a radical and necessary practice in the context of white supremacy because it requires us to reject the idea of shaping our reality to try to fit in or blend in to an oppressive system.
Kujichagulia begins in reflection and self-understanding. Kawaida offers three questions that we ought to regularly be asking ourselves to help us in this task.
- Who Am I? - This question of identity is important for us to understand as individuals, for we cannot truly commit to a community or collective if we are hiding from ourselves. As we are asking that of ourselves we must also be asking of our community. Who are we? What is our story? In many ways the answer to the individual question and the collective question will inform the evolution of each other.
- Am I Who I Really Am? - If the first question is about identity, this question is about authenticity. Both as individuals and as a community we are invited to think about the difference between the masks we wear and the people we are underneath the mask, the difference between what is appearance and what is essence.
- Am I All I ought To Be? - For those of us who have learned to define ourselves and our worth by the measuring stick of capitalism, it may be tempting to hear this question as an assessment on our net worth, our productivity, our notoriety or other markers of capitalist success. However this question begs us to dig deeper. It begs us to question the quality of our lives, our thoughts and our words.
Kujichagulia and Christian Practice
Over at least the four decades, the most popular versions of Christianity in America have been so corrupted by capitalism and white supremacy that even when Black pastors, preachers, churches, and denominations have attempted to proclaim God’s truth we have in many cases perpetuated dangerous and unhelpful lies. We have been baptizing people in polluted water and surprised when they do not emerge clean.
Kujichagulia invites us to push past the mere acceptance of a faith that has been handed to us. Particularly when the principles and practices of that align with multi-millionaire practitioners who do use their voice or invest their resources in the liberation of the oppressed people from who they receive money. By asking questions offered us by Kawaida to examine the principles and practices of our faith, especially when we use liberation as our North Star, we can find ourselves on a path to a faith that truly strengthens, enlivens, and invigorates our families and communities.
The Black Church has a unique opportunity in this generation to not only reject a faith that we must endure in favor of a faith that is culturally grounded and life-giving, but in doing so to rescue American Christianity from its current heretical path. In other words as we save ourselves we will be saving others as well.
Biblical Examples of Kujichagulia
In first chapter of the book of Daniel, we learn that Daniel is among a group of people taken from their homeland and forced in the royal service of an oppressive nation. These captives were given new names and new diets. However Daniel and his colleagues reject conformity to the lifestyle of their captors, and fight to maintain their own practices and identity. In doing do they tapped in to a strength and wisdom that could not be matched.
In the ninth chapter of John, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who was born blind. The disciples are trying to diagnose the man’s spiritual condition using the limited terms of an oppressive religious system made so by its compromise with the agenda of the Roman empire. In other words, they were trying to define the problem of their brother using oppressive religious language. Jesus entirely rejects their narrow, oppressive framework, and instead invites them to see their brother’s condition as a possibility for healing, not an opportunity to cast blame and judgment.
Practicing Kujichagulia at Home
We are best able to practice Kujichagulia when we have access to the stories of who we are and from where we come. Ways that we can practice that at home include:
- Sharing stories intergenerationally. Inviting multiple generations in a family to share stories around a common prompt or theme. Who was your best friend as a child and why? What talents were you excited to discover you had? Questions that speak to an understanding of one’s self, identity, strengths and gifts. As we hear the connections between our stories it can help us to come to a deeper self-understanding.
- Create sacred space to tell hidden/painful stories. Many of our families' stories are impacted by abusive people and/or traumatic events. These stories often remain hidden, even though their impact rarely is. Creating a safe space to share these stories and allow them to be received in love, and covered by prayer not only helps us to understand our complicated legacies but also gives us space to redefine our problems in the community and away from the gaze of outsiders.
Practicing Kujichagulia in the Community
Ways that we can practice Kujichagulia in the community include:
- Interrogating and understanding the stories of the faith community and/or secular organization to which we belong, and seeing how those stories connect with and speak to our own stories. Our belonging ought to be rooted in more than what a community or organization can provide for us. The work of liberation requires that we are creating and protecting spaces that speak to us and nurture us.
- Finding ways to tell our stories as a part of ritual/repeated action. The actions that we take collectively and regularly can be taken for granted, especially as they are passed from generation to generation. Telling the stories of why we do what we do help to ground our actions in a deeper meaning and story of who we are.
Reflection Prompts, Discussion Questions, and Activities for Umoja
Use the questions of Kawaida as prompts for written reflection or group conversation: Who am I? Am I who I really am? Am I all I ought to be?
Create time in coming year for intergenerational story telling. Invite family members with a clear ask and expectation to engage in story telling. If this is a not a custom for your family, come prepared with questions that people can respond to, or another activity that promotes story-telling.
Create time and space to share the painful, hidden stories. There must be a balance between living beyond the pain and trauma of the past and being mired in the pain so much that we are unable to move. Having a sacred time to honor the pain of the past provides a container that can allow healing. Again those who are invited to this sacred time space ought to be made aware of the purpose and practices so that they can show up fully and willingly.
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