Black History Month – Ubuntu and in search of identity

I was reading this book called ‘Everyday Ubuntu: Living better together, the African way’ (the English version) written by Mungi Ngomane the granddaughter of Archbischop Desmond Tutu. The version I was reading is in Dutch it’s called ‘De Lessen van Ubuntu: De Afrikaanse filosofie voor een gelukkig leven’, while reading this book and especially in the month of March I’ve been feeling hopeful and optimistic about the awareness that minorities or people from diverse backgrounds have struggled to be accepted in the society. The reason I want to share this book with you is because the content contains a lot of life lessons we can learn from the concept of Ubuntu. Especially in diverse communities it could be essential to integrate such life lessons in daily life. What makes this book intriguing is that it is written by a South African woman who has gotten this knowledge from her grandfather who has lived through Apartheid in South Africa.

When I first started reading this book I was immediately attracted to the meaning behind Ubuntu. How much it has an impact on the way I see myself when I interact with a stranger. The book really helped me to become more aware of myself as a person. I learned a lot from it about how I stand up to others as a human being. It gave me a lot of depth on certain life changes that I can make use of in my daily life.

I’m sure some of you guys are wondering what Ubuntu means.

Ubuntu comes from a South African philosophy and includes all our ideals about how we can live a good life together. We experience it when we make contact with other people and see the human in the other. Or when we listen attentively to someone and a deep bond develops. And when we treat ourselves and others with the respect that we and they deserve.

-Mungi Ngomane-

Ubuntu is a word from the Xhosa language and it means that everyone is connected to each other: ‘I am because you are’ (Ngomane, 2019). Like how it’s described in the quote written by Mungi Ngomane, I do see the importance of treating each other with respect regardless of the differences. To connect with someone gives the opportunity for the person to feel accepted in the community where he or she feels an outsider. We humans are social species, we are not meant to be isolated. In the period of so much division, seeking connection, being part of a community and caring are one of the main important factors to being human.

I would like to point out some of the different lessons from the book that I personally feel are important in life (Ngomane, 2019):

  • Lesson 1: See yourself in others
  • Lesson 3: Put yourself in another
  • Lesson 4: Choose for a broader perspective
  • Lesson 5: Be worthy and respectful of yourself and others
  • Lesson 6: See the good in everyone
  • Lesson 10: Be open to Diversity

These lessons were brought to my attention especially for Black History Month. There are few lessons I can integrate in what I have discovered during the event I went to. This is important because they give me a different perspective on how you deal with yourself and others. How you face challenges in a state of turmoil during your younger years.

This month is Black History Month here in Belgium. It’s about reflecting Black community’s culture, history and various forms of heritage. I want to link Ubuntu with what I have discovered during the event this weekend in Antwerp. It was organised by RZM (Rwanda en Zo Veel Meer; English: Rwanda and So Much More). The organisation was founded in 2012 by and for Rwandan adoptees in Flanders. It’s an exhibition that’s called ‘Blend-ID’. They show portrait pictures, images and shows. Each of these pictures represent a story about the life of an adopted Rwandan child in a white community Belgium. It’s free entrance.

While I was reading these short stories with each portrait, I could relate to some parts, especially when it comes to acceptance, fitting in, finding your identity. To be able to understand their stories, I was invited to discover their point of view as an adopted child.

I must say it was pretty confronting at times especially when they share their personal stories. What is it like to be the only person of color in a white environment? One of the adopted Rwandans used to live in the countryside. I live in the countryside myself. When I was young I was selfconscious too about the color of my skin because people tend to look at me in a certain way. It felt uncomfortable at times.

Down below I have selected two stories that touched me and I definitely want to share them with you.

In my youth I felt very much protected, but at the same time I felt shielded. Protected from anything that could be used against me as a person of color, but at the same time shielded from my own culture. Western culture enveloped itself like a cocoon around me. I lost a lot of my African individuality. As I got older I began to realize that I felt more connected to the African culture. My cocoon began to burst and made way for the proud woman I am now.

Model: Saar N.

I want to link this experience with what I have read in the Book about Ubuntu, especially when it comes to identity, respecting yourself and others. How much it can affect your self dignity as a person. You want to get out of this vicious circle when you have no clear answer on where you stand. Especially when you look at yourself you don’t really fit in either community, black or white. Of course I can’t speak for them, since their stories are what they have personally experienced and bringing exposure to vulnerability. I think it’s strong that they want to share their experiences with us.

To read the stories that come from Rwandan adoptees’ perspective gave me this feeling that they’ve experienced struggles. It’s something that I’ve struggled with in search of my own identity. I don’t know which of both cultures (African or European) I feel more connected to and where I belong.

In my teens and certainly also in my twenties I had a very difficult time with the image I saw in the mirror. I was proud to be an African woman, surrounded by African friends and wanted to learn more about my Rwandan roots. I found being African so beautiful with others, but not with myself. Often I dreamed of different hair, different skin color, different face,…

Model: Uwera

The last story gave me a feeling of how much we look at ourselves as different from our brothers and sisters from the same community. How can we embrace the color of our skin and see others as beautiful and not ourselves? It’s a very complicated topic to talk about especially when I used to have the same thoughts back during the days I was young. The experience is totally diferent since I’m not adopted, as a person of mixed-color (white mother and black father). I always felt proud to be African more than being European. Even though I felt this, I still didn’t feel enough confidence to say it out loud because of the color of my skin (I’m light brown and not black). When I lived in Cameroon I used to be called a lot ‘white girl’ and in Belgium I’m called ‘black’. It’s not wrong since I consider myself black and white. Sometimes it left me with confusion considering my identity and racial inclusion.

It goes to show how much the environment where we grew up has a huge impact on our self-image. I can link this with the theory of ‘Looking-glass self’ created by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902. According to Cooley it’s a social psychological concept that states people shaping their identity based on the perception of others, which leads the people to reinforce other people’s perspectives on themselves. People shape themselves based on what other people perceive and confirm other people’s opinion of themselves (Rousseau, 2002). These stories and portraits help us reflect on how much people of color have to go through in a community that’s different. The perception and opinions of others have a huge influence on the idea we have about ourselves. That can lead to negative self-image which in turn can have an impact on our mental wellbeing in longer term.

Ubuntu helped me putting some elements into perspective on how I look at myself and embrace myself of who I really am and how I look at others. There’s this part about Ubuntu that’s called ‘you are enough’.

According to Ngomane: ‘we aspire not to be unduly influenced by others when we form our thoughts and feelings, but we also acknowledge everyone who has helped us to become who we are. The parents who give us space and freedom to experiment with our lives, the teachers and mentors who offer their wisdom for our journeys, the friends who encourage us, or the family members who might have loaned us money. We feel grateful for where we are, right here and right now, as ubuntu teaches us we are enough. We don’t need to compare our lives to others’ and what they may or may not have in them. Instead, we can be grateful for other people’s contributions to ours’.

I would really recommend this book (Everyday Ubuntu: Living better together, the African way). It’s an inspiring read during your break with a cup of tea/coffee and cake. Especially in these corona times…

It’s better to read the original version, I bought mine in Dutch. Unfortunately other upcoming events are cancelled because of the Coronavirus.. It’s a pity I’m not going to to be able to share more stories about BHM during the whole month of March. I understand the decision, better stay safe than sorry! ❤

It’s a privilege I was able to attend this event which was worth visiting ❤

Still doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be other interesting topics to talk about. 😉

Bibliography

  1. Ngomane, M. (2019). De Lessen van Ubuntu: De Afrikaanse filosofie voor een gelukkige leven. Amsterdam: HarperCollins Holland.
  2. Ngomane, M. (2019). Everyday Ubuntu: Living better together, the African way. United Kingdom: Transworld Publ. Ltd.
  3. RZM (2020), Blend-id. [Event]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/events/1916202505180705/
  4. Rousseau, N. (2002). Charles Horton Cooley: The concept of the Looking Glass Self. http://www.csun.edu/~hbsoc126/soc1/Charles%20Horton%20Cooley.pd

2 thoughts on “Black History Month – Ubuntu and in search of identity

  1. Nice writing… interesting to understand how some may struggle with their identity and how liberating it is for them to finally accept the truth of who they are!
    Nice one Keds!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Supo for your comment!
      Glad you found it interesting. Yes indeed, you’re in search of yourself in the beginning. But the older you get the more you realize that you are enough.

      Like

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