White Allyship & Kwanzaa: Practicing Cooperative Economics

Thoughtful decision making about where to spend money is a critical way white people can participate in effective and accountable cross-racial collaboration for racial justice (i.e. allyship). So why wait for the New Year to add this practice to your list of resolutions? Today, the fourth day of Kwanzaa, is the perfect day to start making wise investments for a better world.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of African heritage that spans over seven days, each of which is dedicated to reflecting on a core African principle for creating healthy communities, families, and individuals. The holiday is particularly appealing because it has no religious affiliation and can be celebrated in addition to Hanukah, Christmas, New Year’s, or any other tradition. While many winter celebrations serve as an excuse for gluttony and overspending, Kwanzaa’s focus on seven important principles by which to live makes it a holiday easily appreciated by anyone. Today, December 29, is the fourth day of Kwanzaa — a day to celebrate and reflect on the principle of Ujamaa, or Cooperative Economics.

Those of us who don’t identify as members of the African diaspora can still honor the holiday by taking part in festivities organized by our friends of color to which we are invited, and by learning about the holiday and its meaning.* What’s more, if you are a white person striving to be a more effective and accountable ally in the upcoming year, the fourth day of Kwanzaa is a perfect time to get started. Appalled by race-based police brutality? Distraught over the surge in white supremacy? Disgusted by white folks calling the police on black community members for no reason? The sociopolitical climate in which we currently live is enough to make anyone feel uneasy, so why not commit to addressing some of the cognitive dissonance you’ve been living with all year and resolve to support racial equality for real?

Economic justice is a critical requirement for bridging the racial divide in our country. Most folks are aware that black Americans have been systematically barred from achieving economic equality in the US in a multitude of ways, both overt and subtle. If you’re not already familiar with the facts, check out Against All Odds: The Fight for a Black Middle Class to learn more.

Acknowledging the reality of our country’s race-based wealth disparities includes accepting that no matter how hard our grandparents, parents, and ourselves have worked to get where we are now, upper and middle class white people are unfair winners in a rigged economic system. The neighborhoods in which we reside, the jobs we occupy, and the money we’ve been able to save are all a result of playing a game with the deck stacked in our favor. Knowing this, we have a responsibility to level the playing field in order to restore trust, make reparations, and move forward in unity with our community members of color.

Most people already have causes to which they are drawn, and each of them are worthy. But let’s face it — given what we profess to stand for, few of us could come up with a legitimate excuse for not adding a racial justice organization led by people of color to the list of causes we support financially. Skip that sale item, eat in tonight, do whatever you need to do to make up for the additional expense and I promise you’ll be glad you did it. Living within and contributing to systems of oppression is dehumanizing to us all, so giving to organizations that work for a more just and equitable world is not a donation, but rather an investment in our collective wellbeing.

If you’re short on time just click these direct links to donate to one of my top three favorite organizations: Color of Change, Girl Trek, and Black Girls Code. If you prefer to research for yourself, consider the more expansive lists offered by the articles 10+ Black Women-Led Organizations that Deserve Your End-of-Year Donation, and 28 Organizations That Empower Black Communities.

For folks who are more compelled to donate when thier contribution has an immediate impact, consider contributing to the National Bail Out Collective. Your money will go directly to the bail payment for an incarcerated person of color who can’t afford to pay their bail before a hearing, which is a form of economic distrimination resulting in unjust imprisonment. The National Bail Out Collective reunites families separated by inhumane bail and criminal legal practices to reduce the impact of incarceration on families and communities. Read the special Kwanzaa message on their webpage for more information about how their work reflects all seven values of the holiday.

Giving to organizations that work for a more just and equitable world is not a donation, but an investment in our collective wellbeing.

Today the fourth principle of Kwanzaa reminds us that one of the ways to foster healthy communities and societies is through Ujamaa, Cooperative Economics. This important value “is based on the assumption of human equality, on the belief that it is wrong for one person to dominate or exploit another, and on the knowledge that every individual hopes to live in a society as a free person able to lead a decent life, in conditions of peace with his neighbor (Nyerere).” If this year is any indication, we have a long road ahead of us in achieving dignity, equality, and justice for all. Now is the time to acknowledge our shared responsibility for how we got here and invest in a better future moving forward.

Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year!

*You can learn more about how people of European descent can respectfully celebrate Kwanzaa without engaging in cultural appropriation by reading items 5 and 6 on the Kwanzaa founder’s webpage.