Hope As a Strategy, Ubuntu Is the Way

In this time of panic and era of uncertainty, we are tempted more than ever to believe in the lie of staying busy. 

Self-improvement projects. The rush to break a news story on social media. The not so subtle nudges to consume more and more information. Conditioned reflexes that urge us to respond to every notification that sounds its blaring alarm. Organized by capitalism, and heightened by the coronavirus, we are challenged by endless demands to be alert, informed, and online.

Distractions keep us from being present with ourselves as we are and the world as it is. Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows our needs are not met by the platforms and institutions we serve every day. 

What makes it possible to activate something new? 

What kind of alteration does a new life call for? 

What do we owe each other? 

Leah Penniman writes in her book:

“Our great-great grandmothers in Dahomey, West Africa, witnessed the kidnapping and disappearance of members of their community and experienced a rising unease about their own safety. As insurance for an uncertain future, they began the practice of braiding rice, okra, and millet seeds into their hair. While there were no ‘report backs’ from the other side of the transatlantic slave trade and rumors abounded that white people were capturing Africans to eat us, they still had the audacity of hope to imagine a future on soil. Once sequestered in the bowels of the slave ships, they continued the practice of seed smuggling, picking up grains from the threshing floor and hiding the precious kernels in their braids…”

African wisdom can help us reimagine ways to reach for each other and provide new ways to live together – how to function, handle conflict, make decisions, eat and love, grieve and play. Ubuntu principles, “I am because we are”, emphasize humanity towards others. During this time of isolation, a sense of belonging to each other can counter tactics that sell us a belief in scarcity and fear. Just as African landscapes dance in an ever-changing pattern with the rain, thunder, sunshine, and drought, communities can multiply life-worlds and generate patterns and varied ways of being.

Belonging is not a magical promised land or a place of attainment. We all move between alternating phases of contraction and expansion, apartness and togetherness though those who practice belonging embody a set of virtues that inspire collective responsibility for the change we want to see in society. In times of crisis, writers, poets, musicians, and artists, help us turn toward community practices that belonging fosters:

“In the face of daunting challenges, we must summon the courage to believe we are the ones we have been waiting for, to take risks, and experiment towards solutions. We’ve been asked to believe in our inherent capacity, step into the unknown, and challenge deeply held assumptions.” 

For most of us, coronavirus is radically disruptive and increases interdependence in ways that are contrary to how we’ve been conditioned. How we’ve learned to survive over the past thirty days is through believing in things we have been taught were impossible, especially in America.

Universal basic income. 

A right to healthcare. 

Reducing our carbon footprint. 

Prison abolition.

Organizational culture that balances work and family. 

Like nature, we have come to recognize more than ever before we are a collective body. Though many of us experience despair, we will regenerate and renew. Forest regrows after fire. Tides turn inward after a storm. We will thrive in collective care, mutual aid, resiliency, and new possibilities.

When you feel ready, dream together with the ones who are embracing all sides of you right now. Acknowledge feelings. Take time. Celebrate your maturity and growth and ability to get through this. As you grow this skill, bring it to others. To your virtual or physical workspace. Create second, third, and fourth alternatives. Engage in group movement and participate in collective reflection. 

Either we are going to emerge from this the same or we are going to disrupt the status quo and advance justice. It was only a month ago we “lived in the imagination of people who thought economic disparity and environmental destruction were acceptable costs for their power.” Now is the time to write ourselves into the future that is unfolding. 

Hope is our strategy. Ubuntu is the way. It is how captives on slave ships survived. It is how Harriet Tubman went back to get others free. It is how Indigenous people and farmers form alliances, how migrants resist border imperialism, how protestors fight the prison industrial complex, and why ordinary people, neighbors, friends, teachers, nurses, social workers – organize for a life that works for all of us. 

Mia Mingus speaks to the importance of this kind of solidarity in Joyful Militancy:

What I’m talking about is reinventing how we love each other and knowing that our solidarity is love, collaboration is love. And really, isn’t that what queerness is about: loving? I am talking about growing up and cultivating a deep love that starts with those close to us and letting it permeate out. Starting with our own communities. Building strong foundations of love… Collective love.”

Will you participate with me? Will you build alongside me? Will you create beautiful movements? Will you solve local problems? Will you savor the input from all your senses? Will you “read, look at the skies, sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life?”

I know we will get through this. We will heal inward and outward one day at a time.

I am rooting for you,

Whitney


I’m working on adding all the readings and references that inspired this piece. In the meantime, please join us for a online conversation starting Thursday, March 26 at 1:00pm at go.osu.edu/restorehope. The focus of the conversation will be cultivating hope and sharing resources during the coronavirus.