On the second day of Kwanzaa, the black nationalists gave to me…a hard-ass word to pronounce! But in fact, Kujichagulia (pronounced: koo-gi—as in Coogi sweater—cha–goo–lee-ah—as in Aaliyah) is probably my favorite principle in the Kwanzaa pantheon.
To practice Kujichagulia, or self-determination, always celebrated on Dec. 27, is to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. In the deeply anti-black culture that is as ubiquitous as air in this country, this—self-determination—is the most brazen (brave?) of the seven principles, because it takes a lot of courage to go against the all-encompassing grain of white supremacy.
It is no coincidence that the person who embodied Kujiachagulia last year is also an NFL player (and Cardi B the year before that) because the NFL is certainly a metaphor for what is celebrated and revered in America: violence for sport and profit; the exploitation of black men for entertainment; profit at any cost; and a soul-crushing expectation not to buck (ahem) the system. And so, anyone who goes against that is really practicing self-determination in a very prescribed environment.
And yet, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens—the number one seed in the playoffs—didn’t necessarily buck the system in the same way that Colin Kaepernick or Marshawn Lynch did; but he still practiced self-determination all the same.
You see, for those in the NFL who feel as if black men shouldn’t or can’t be quarterbacks (even though he won the Heisman as…a quarterback) or who believe they will never be as good as the whiteboys because the QB is, one, a leader, and two, has to use his brain and not his innate athleticism or black brawny body) Jackson eschewed the prevailing narrative and said, fuck that shit —I’m that shot caller (and that nigga.)
For context: In 2019’s NFL draft, Jackson fell to the bottom of the first round and got passed over by damn near every team because they wanted him to be a receiver. And yet, Jackson persevered and determined for himself that he’s a quarterback. A mere year later, Jackson has logged arguably the greatest QB season in the history of the league and is the league’s frontrunner for MVP by a landslide. Oh, and Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian was forced to eat his words, apologizing for suggesting that 22-year-old Jackson play wide receiver and not QB, and using “the old traditional quarterback standard with him.”
In fact, Jackson embodied many other Kwanzaa principles—those of faith (in himself); creativity in the way he innovated the position (he literally changed the game!), and singleness of purpose. We salute you, Mr. Jackson, and will be cheering from the stands when you stunt on these fools as this year’s NFL MVP, cuz that’s what you named yourself, that’s what you are, and that’s what you excelled in. Gooooooal!
Editor’s Note: For each day of Kwanzaa, we will be highlighting one person from the community who exemplifies the principle of the day. Who do you think exemplified Kujichagulia or self-determination this year? Sound off in the comments!
Those practicing Kwanzaa greet each other with the words, “Habari Gani?!” roughly translated as “What’s the good news?” to which participants respond with the principle of the day, in this case, “Kujichagulia!”