Monday, December 28, 2009
What’s with all the hate towards Kwanzaa?
Graphic courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art
It's a holiday mystery right up there with "What's wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys?", "How does Santa deliver toys to homes with no chimneys?", and "Would anyone even like the song 'Jingle Bells' if it wasn't associated with Christmas?" (FYI, "Jingle Bells" is a Thanksgiving song, people. It would be nice if I didn't hear it after the turkey has been digested.)
What is this unfathomable question I'm thinking of?
"Why do people hate on Kwanzaa?"
Turn on any AM talk station at this time of year, and sooner or later you’re going to hear somebody say, “Well, Kwanzaa’s not a real holiday.”
Real to whom? If even one person celebrates it, that makes the holiday real as far as I am concerned.
You might also hear this: “Oh, Kwanzaa is just a made-up holiday.”
All holidays are made-up, even those that are centuries old. We do not have an instinct to celebrate ritualized holidays. As proof, read this New York Times story about people who have stopped celebrating Christmas.
What is it about Kwanzaa that pisses people off?
First, let’s take a closer look at the holiday itself. According to Wikipedia, “Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebrated in the United States honoring African heritage and culture, marked by participants lighting a kinara (candle holder). It is observed from December 26 to January 1 each year, primarily in the United States. 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 was first celebrated from December 26, 1966, to January 1, 1967.”
Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa represents a principle: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).
Now, what could possibly be wrong with those values? I thought about it, and here’s my take:
1. Some people don’t like Ujima and Ujamaa. Collective? Cooperative? Sounds a bit too much like (duh duh duhhhhh) socialism!
2. Some people think that Kwanzaa is in competition with good old-fashioned ‘Merican Christmas. Who knows, people might celebrate this mumbo-jumbo instead of turning to Christ, as they oughta! (FYI, according to the official Kwanzaa website, this is not so: "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. And it is not an alternative to people's religion or faith but a common ground of African culture...Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything.” Those who bitch about Kwanzaa are also more likely to bitch about the “War on Christmas.” Think about your last visit to a mall or big-box store. Does it look like Christmas is losing this “war”? (But’s that’s another post for another day, probably in 2010.)
3. Some people don’t like it when black folks do something for themselves without asking for white folks’ approval. Yes, that's right. Even in 2009.
It is easy to dismiss Kwanzaa-bashing as just more noise from the conservative whine machine. But it’s not so easy to dismiss the 1971 conviction of the creator of Kwanzaa, Ron Karenga, for beating and torturing two female members of United Slaves, a militant cultural organization which rivaled the Black Panthers. The women were ordered to strip, and then were whipped with an electrical cord and karate baton. One had a hot soldering iron placed in her mouth, the other had one of her big toes placed in a vise. Disgusting stuff. Karenga spent four years in prison for his participation in this crime. No matter how culturally righteous you may be, there’s no justification for this.
Still, Karenga’s crimes do not erase or negate the values of Kwanzaa. It’s just like knowing the difference between the words of the man known to most of the world as Jesus Christ and the horrific acts of those who acted in his name throughout the centuries.
If I had the choice to erase from the earth either Christmas or Kwanzaa, I would erase Christmas. It’s a holiday of a single religion, and one of those repressive paternalistic ones to boot. It’s a holiday that’s a servant of consumerism, and no pious TV special about the “true meaning” of Christmas will ever change that. Its “true meaning” becomes doubly false when we learn that we don’t really know the day that the man we call Jesus Christ was born.
Far better to ponder unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith than mythical red-suited gift-givers, reindeers with shiny red noses, and dreadful songs played over and over again.
So let the Kwanzaa corn stand alongside the Christmas cookies and the Hanukkah chocolate coins as holiday treats, and instead of wasting a kilowatt of energy in complaining, acknowledge that it's a big world, not a small one, after all, and it can contain multitudes of holidays.