We are upon the cusp of a changing era. The philosophies of black diaspora have been
uprooted, reworked, supplanted, and oftentimes discredited in favor of whiter, excuse me, western moral principles. We are now faced with a generation of peoples, specifically [discussed] black peoples, who recognize the innate issues within western constructs of humanistic value, how it subsequently affects their communities, and who seek philosophy outside of those constructs. Ubuntu is ‘a secular conception...that justifies obligation to one’s community...when combined with... [the] conception of personhood.” (Tschaepe, 47). It is derived from a sub-Saharan/South-African context, connected to the Nguni proverb, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, meaning people are people because of people, or ‘I am because we are’. Ubuntu describes the act of being as irrevocably connected to community. What happens to one in the community happens to all. When one holds joy, it is the joy for all. When one encounters grief,
all are struck by that grief. When one has a child, the community has and rears that child. What one does for the community, is really done to benefit himself, as one cannot be without their community. According to ubuntu, it is because of community that being a person is possible. This is in direct opposition with the basis of many western ideals that stress individualistic success in spite of, or despite any surrounding factors, including community. The individual is celebrated. The individual is at fault. The individual is solely responsible for himself. It is not to be mistaken that ubuntu denies personal responsibility, but it simply takes into account the person as connected to all, a deceivingly simple thought; however, it greatly affects the manner in which African peoples are socialized and relate to each other.
This manner of thinking holds a great many strengths. When connected to this
philosophy, there is a tendency to lean toward communalism, a way of living that emphasizes obligation to one’s own community. It is through this way that ubuntu flourishes; one can only be an individual through their community, as such it is vital that they protect, sustain, and cultivate that community, as an extension of doing that for themselves. This allows for a knowing of different moral judgements that are in stark contrast with those derived from a more individualistic perspective. It is not to say that ubuntu is an ethical principle of communalism, but simply that the philosophy itself influences the ways in which communities organize themselves, due to the strong emphasis on the livelihoods and lifestyles being based on the interdependence of a community. One cannot succeed without everyone within a community working for the success of the whole community; the success of the whole is quite literally the
success of the individual. Thaddeus Metz defines ubuntu as: “An action is right just insofar as it promotes shared identity among people grounded on good-will; an act is wrong to the extent that it fails to do so and tends to encourage the opposites of division and ill-will.” (Metz, 49).
In this sense, ubuntu directly opposes certain individualistic ideology that would encourage division and ill-will, such as capitalism being based in competition. See: A girl hires a photographer to shoot, but he cancels the shoot because he cannot afford film. In a capitalistic or individualistic view, the best the girl can hope for is a speedy refund on her deposit so she can reschedule with someone else and move on with her own goals; however, what she actually did, was invite the photographer over for dinner, because that day she could afford to feed two people. That action is communalistic. It was not done for immediate personal gain, but rather to aid someone within the
community, which will inevitably help her as she is a model and every model needs a
photographer. The more work he does with her, the more exposure they both get, the more they can share with their immediate artistic community, and so forth; I can’t quite imagine the photographer not wanting to work for her (and his) benefit after such an encounter. Such is the essence of ubuntu.
For all its strengths, it is balanced by weaknesses. What is a community in the modern-
age? The countries and continents of the world are extremely interconnected by an overarching system of globalization. In building civilization, human beings have evolved from isolated kingdoms and empires. Ironically, as human beings move more toward a social pangaea, it is infinitely more difficult to align personhood with a particular community. Western ideals dominate the current world stage, it is quite impossible to obligate yourself to a particular community when the ideals of the age break down traditional ideas of community in favor of allegiance to category, i.e. white or black, man or woman, gay or straight, etc. These categories foster a false sense of community, most are based in social stratification and constructs, not biological or geographical similarities like communities. How can one find personhood or humanness through such ill-defined ‘communities’? Within these categories lie further subsets of categories intermingled with pseudo-communities, there is very little or no basis for cultivation
or sustenance of the ‘communities’ themselves, most are an amalgamation of peoples simply trying to sustain themselves.
This is not true across the board in western societies. There is an uncanny cling of
cultural tie to the black diaspora. It is imperative to black peoples all over the world to create community be it identifying with your city, your culture, or your passions. It is almost as if its engrained in black conscience that to be we need we. What that we is considered to be differs a bit from what we are traditionally used to seeing, however, it very clearly perseveres.