Reflections on Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics
“Support Black Business” this was my approach to the principle of Ujamaa for years, but I realized that supporting a business by someone who looks like me will likely get our people no closer to liberation. Okay, so maybe everyone isn’t going for liberation, but hear me out. The issue with simply thinking of Ujamaa as supporting Black business is that it 1) assumes Black people who own businesses are going to take their profits and reinvest in our community and 2) that capitalism is the only system for us to participate in. The first one is faulty for obvious reasons, if you need an example please see BET. The second point is one that folks tend to think I’m crazy for suggesting. We can have a system of trade that does not put financial capital at the center, but instead re-establishes the importance of exchange of goods that aren’t simply monetary and builds community.
What would our communities look like if we concentrated on contributing positively to each other lives, rather than concentrating on accruing financial capital? Basically, the desire to make money often takes precedent over our ability to contribute to each others well being. One of the consistent themes that I hear these days is “when I was growing up, we didn’t have much but we made due….” These types of narratives hinge on the idea that community has existed in the presence of few financial resources and may even be strengthened if we play our cards right. When we had little, we gave a lot to keep all our boats afloat. One of my favorite anthro books (don’t tell anyone) is All Our Kin by Carol Stack. It really outlines how cooperative economics need not hinge upon how much money you have or how much your neighbor has. As the financial crunch hits Black folks the hardest, we’d do well to think of economics beyond financial capital and work on social capital and cultural capital for the uplift of our community. After all, I know that kwanzaa credit card looked hot, but I doubt it will contribute to our collective transformation.
*Yes, I feel off the daily post wagon, but I’m going to finish out the principles of Kwanzaa because this is a year round thing, not seven days!