Applying the Principles of Kwanzaa to the Black LGBT Community

Panelists at the Schomburg Center's Dec. 2 event, "Building a Vibrant Black LGBT Community: Using Kwanzaa Principles Every Day." (Photo by Eseosa Olumhense for Voices of NY)

Panelists at the Schomburg Center’s Dec. 2 event, “Building a Vibrant Black LGBT Community: Using Kwanzaa Principles Every Day.” (Photo by Eseosa Olumhense for Voices of NY)

The often overlooked winter celebration of Kwanzaa, observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, provides an opportunity to explore how its principles can be applied to life in the Black LGBT community.

The African-American holiday’s seven principles were discussed in this context by a group of Black community leaders, activists, educators and artists at a panel discussion held Dec. 2 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

“As people who are marginalized in society along multiple aspects of identity, we are disproportionately affected by structural violence, inequality, and community vulnerabilities,” said Aih Djehuti Herukhuti, moderator of the event, entitled “Building a Vibrant Black LGBT Community: Using Kwanzaa Principles Every Day.” Herukhuti is the founder of the Center for Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality in at the Schomburg Center.

Each of the panelists was asked to discuss one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa as a lens through which to view the challenges affecting Black LGBT communities. The seven principles are: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). Collectively the seven principles are called the nguzo saba.

“Members of the Black LGBT community experience a distinct kind of oppression,” said Fatima Iman, a graduate student attending the event. “Your identity is positioned on a set of warring axes. We stand at the intersection of racism, homophobia, and transphobia.”

More than one panelist discussed the challenges faced by the Black LGBT community in the context of white dominance within gay-lesbian organizations, and how that dominance may detract from the tenet of self-love which those groups espouse.

“The gay/lesbian paradigm creates dissonance in Black people, because it doesn’t stabilize us in a place of self-recognition and power,” Cleo Managa, a Black behavioral health strategist said. Discussing the principle of kujichagulia, which embraces self-advocacy, he continued: “It creates confusion because we cannot love ourselves in our own image.”

Sean Coleman, executive director of the Bronx-based Destination Tomorrow, echoed this, saying, “There is a power structure in not-for-profits… Gay white males and the white women who run these organizations decide what issues take priority.”

Coleman encouraged the Black LGBT community to strive for unity and collective responsibility in line with the Kwanzaa principles of umoja and ujima, to champion joint efforts for greater benefit.

Women on the panel evaluated the power struggle from the perspective of sexism within both Black and Black LGBT activism efforts. Artist Karma Mayet Johnson highlighted the fact that sexism has adversely affected her advocacy work. “As women, we don’t necessarily ascribe to normalized tenets of Black nationalist movements. I’ve also had horrible experiences as a lesbian working with LGBT organizations,” she furthered.

Attendees left the two-hour event hopeful and encouraged. “The holidays are an exceedingly trying time for people in the Black LGBT community,” Iman said. “It is imperative that we have spaces to go during these times to acknowledge the people who look like us, love like us, and best celebrate us.”

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  1. Pingback: Freedom at the Intersections: Between Black History & Bisexual Health Awareness Months | CENTER FOR CULTURE SEXUALITY and SPIRITUALITY

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