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Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Okay, I have to ask: am I the only black guy who thinks Kwanzaa is a load of bullshit? Today's the first day of that annual celebration, and I just ain't feelin' it. Never did.

By way of explanation as to exactly what Kwanzaa's supposed to be, here's an excerpt from the good old Wikipedia:

Kwanzaa (or Kwaanza) is a week-long Pan-African festival celebrated primarily in the United States, honoring African American heritage. It is observed from December 26 to January 1 each year. Kwanzaa consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations, and culminating in a feast and gift giving. It was created by Ron Karenga, and first celebrated from December 26, 1966, to January 1, 1967, timed to coincide with Christmas so that it would be remembered. Karenga calls Kwanzaa the African American branch of "first fruits" celebrations of classical African cultures.

Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966. Karenga said his goal was to "...give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." The name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza", meaning "first fruits". The choice of Swahili, an East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism, especially in the 1960s, though most African-Americans have West African ancestry.

The official stance on the spelling of the holiday is that an additional "a" was added to "Kwanza" so that the word would have seven letters. The name was meant to have a letter for each of what Karenga called "The Seven Principles". Another explanation is that Karenga added the extra "a" to distinguish the African-American meaning from the African one. Kwanzaa is also sometimes incorrectly spelled "kwaanza".

Kwanzaa is a celebration that has its roots in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s, and was established as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of "African traditions" and "common humanist principles."

In 1967, a year after Karenga proposed this new holiday, he publicly espoused the view that "Jesus was psychotic" and that Christianity was a white religion that blacks should shun. However, as Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so as not to alienate practicing Christians, then stating in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday."

So now you get the idea. (And you've got to give that Karenga dude points for the unintentionally hilarious "Jesus was psychotic" statement; makes John Lennon's "We're more popular than Jesus" pale in comparison, no?)

I dunno, the whole thing strikes me as an attempt to manufacture a connection to aspects of African culture that we, as American-born blacks, have no bond with save for our genetics (and even our genetics have been considerably mongrelized since we the day our ancestors first got here, making for too-sexy critters like meself) so why not instead come up with a celebration of our own thing, an American thing that recognizes the contributions that black American influences have made not only in this fair land's melting pot culture, but to that of the entire globe? (And don't hand me that "African-American" horseshit either; I am not African, I am an American. I was born here, I believe in the concept of a pan-ethnic society, and even though it doesn't always work I staunchly support the intent.)

And as for the "Seven Principles," they're all well and good in and of themselves and are an admirable list around which to found a philosophy:

1. Umoja (Unity) To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and to solve them together.
4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
5. Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
6. Kuumba (Creativity) To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
7. Imani (Faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Having read and absorbed all of that I have to say that this list has very little to do with what I see happening in some realms of black American society. All seven principles fall by the wayside for me when I see blacks being our own worst enemy (don't forget who really allowed the slave trade to flourish on the African end of things), what with the staggering lack of focus on the family as a unit, the appalling dissemination of thug culture and behavior that was once known as "coonish," a focus on personal material gain and bling-bling rather than a concerted push for education and the arts... My list goes on and on, while the list of the Seven Principles is quite clear and concise in what it puts out there. If Kwanzaa is to have any real meaning for anyone, keep those precepts in mind year-round, and not just for a week.

Oh well, at least it's not technically a "religious" thing. And while I'm not down with much of the whole Kwanzaa thing, I do love me some Kwanzaabot.

Kwanzaabot (voiced by Coolio) and Bender Rodriguez, from FUTURAMA.


Scott Koblish said...

You should look up Ron Karenga sometime -I think he was involved in the murders of 5 Black Panthers in Los Angeles and operated as a mole in the black power movement for the FBI in the 60's. He's a real interesting piece of work...

Da Nator said...

I just found this post and really enjoyed it. As you know, my stepfather was a black activist, so we celebrated Kwanzaa every year. I was the only white girl I knew at the time who had the 7 principles memorized.

I would like to learn more about Ron Karenga. His "Jesus was psychotic" statement aside, I've often wondered why so many people whose ancestors were enslaved, colonized and oppressed by white Christians still adhere to that religion, but that seems to be the way of things. Proselytizing religions conquer other peoples, and enforce their beliefs or the conquered figure to have power themselves they'd better adopt the god who won.

Like you, I don't really understand the fetishism of what country one's forebears came from, as I think peoples and cultures mixing is a good thing. After all, homo sapiens and neaderthals all pretty much evolved in the same area from the same DNA. However, considering the history of how African Americans came to this country and the lack of respect and power they've had, it is understandable to want to find a uniting theme and ways to be proud of your heritage. You may be right that it makes more sense to do it by honouring African-Americans more, but when do the feelings of crowds of humans make logical sense?

As for thuggish behaviour and materialism, I think that's a class/oppression issue. Desperate people all over the world celebrate the underclass man who becomes rich and powerful by any means necessary. The spread of the thug culture probably has more to do with the history of black people being poor, oppressed and nearly doomed to incarceration, plus the spread of capitalism (a force much like an invading religion) and an entertainment industry that rewards the image. If all of us valued education, health care and equal rights more, things might change. But it is sad to see African-Americans perpetuating the system because they feel hopeless or it's the only thing they know.