Ubuntu: A Philosophy to Adopt during a Trump Presidency

February 19, 2017

How an African Philosophy found it’s way to an American Expat living in Mexico

My husband and I were driving around our new city in an effort to gain a better understanding of our location. Driving near a plaza we passed a small shop, one of them made my heart skip a beat; Ubuntu. A few months ago I encountered this term three times in one day, once at the end of yoga class, a second on Facebook and a third in conversation with my hair dresser.

Today Ubuntu found its way to me for a fourth time. I don’t consider myself “new age”, but I cannot deny a blatant sign from the universe. I believe signs are sent to you to confirm you are on the right path or direction. This was the universe sending me a reminder, to keep searching for ubuntu and what it represents. 

What does Ubuntu mean?

After hearing this term for the first time I quickly looked it up. It means “I am what I am because of who we all are”. Or the Zulus from South Africa would say “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other persons. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others.



This philosophy of Ubuntu, although nameless, has been in my heart for a long time, slowly changing and morphing my understanding of the world. A deeper understanding of this philosophy couldn’t have come at a more needed time. What has emerged during this last year and this new presidency has forced me to deal with an array of emotions, questions, and given me the desire to understand different perspectives.

Growing up in a Christian home I quickly learned that the greatest message in the Bible is love. It was preached in my school, church, chapel, and small groups. Yet as I grew up I didn’t see this reflected in the actions of my community. There was rarely compassion for those with less, open doors to the homeless, nor love for those running from war-torn countries and homes. I saw how judgement, fear and even hatred permeated the culture and the body of believers that I was part of, so I found myself slowly walking away. 

Love has always been the greatest truth for me and I have continued to search for it wherever I have traveled. I have found it pulsing through the veins of almost every religion and tight-knit community. Ubuntu also is an embodiment of love, as well as our interconnectedness.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa discussed Ubuntu as “We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world.”

Ubuntu is the essence of being human and we cannot exist in isolation. Desmond Tutu said that one who practices ubuntu is “open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” 

drawing of ELL students from around the world

This past year there were times when I would listen to the news and become physically sick from hearing statements of hate professed from leaders in our country. I remember listening to the radio on my morning commute as an ELL teacher to refugees and immigrants and hearing the proposition of a ban based on an individual’s religion. The thought of this taking place in our country, due to ignorance, fear, and hate forced me to pull over thinking I was going to vomit. Ubuntu says when our brothers and sisters suffer we suffer. 

My position of privilege as a white American unfortunately allows me to choose to take a stand for what is just and right or to choose to be silent during injustice. Ubuntu takes away the privilege of choice. I belong to a larger whole, in this country, and this world. We succeed when we all succeed. When my brothers and sisters are served an injustice I have also been served injustice. 

What can we do to fight for our Black, Muslim, and refugee sisters and brothers?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

– Edmund Burke

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“‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:35-40 NASB)

More about Eemma Iseman

    1. I’ve been reading about this philosophy since you told me about it , but the article that you wrote here and I’ve just read it’s very inspiring and I admired you even more as a teacher and as the kind human being that you’re .
      Thank you for an amazing reading !

    1. I initially thought that this was somehow related to the Linux install – but then I’m a computer nerd from way back. Your contribution is so much more valuable. And certainly timely at this moment.

      Thank you!

      1. Pete,
        When I was researching Ubuntu the computer program was what kept coming up. I did find out they based their name off of the philosophy though. Thanks for the kind words and stopping by my blog!

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