December 27, 2003

Considering Kwanzaa

Richard J. Rosendall takes a thoughtful and candid look at this relatively new celebration in a Front Page Magazine article. In the course of explaining the origins of Kwanzaa and its founding principles, Rosendall seems to ask just what exactly is being "celebrated" here, and why:

My first impression of Kwanzaa was of an enrichment of holiday celebrations, an expression of pride in African heritage, and another aspect of diversity within the broader American community. Upon further examination, the philosophy and politics behind Kwanzaa are more troubling, precisely because Kwanzaa represents a turning away from the wider American community and a repudiation of the free markets that its own success exemplifies.

Inconsistencies abound in Kwanzaa thought. There is an emphasis on "unity", but the founder was a black separatist. It was an American creation, but e pluribus unum didn't find its way into the rhetoric. Apparently the importance of "community" applied only if everyone in the community had black skin. According to the "Path of Blackness," as summarized by Karenga, one is encouraged to "Think Black, Talk Black, Act Black, Create Black, Buy Black, Vote Black, and Live Black." Here's more from Rosendall:

The greatest incongruity about Kwanzaa is that it is based on Marxist values more than African ones. This is evident in the emphasis on collective work and cooperative economics, the subordination of the individual to the community, the utter silence on the subject of liberty.

Even if these values can be traced to African roots, there is nothing liberating in the embrace of doctrines that have succeeded nowhere in the world, certainly not in Africa.

But there's really nothing "African" about the origins of Kwanzaa, other than some borrowed Swahili words. For background on the founder of Kwanzaa, this Paul Mulshine article, reprinted a year ago at FPM, provides some details. Founder Ron Karenga explains the rich tradition on which the celebration was founded:

"People think it's African, but it's not," he said about his holiday in an interview quoted in the Washington Post. "I came up with Kwanzaa because black people in this country wouldn't celebrate it if they knew it was American. Also, I put it around Christmas because I knew that's when a lot of bloods would be partying."

Well of course!

Karenga, a convicted violent felon, conceived Kwanzaa as an alternative of sorts to Christmas. I've read numerous accounts from religious blacks, especially this year, who are outraged at the suggestion that they should celebrate this separatist, Marxist concoction instead of say, the birth of Jesus Christ, as a way to somehow demonstrate unity, or pride in their heritage. Here are some of Karenga's words from the Rosendall article:

Karenga in 1977 described Kwanzaa as "an oppositional alternative to the spookism, mysticism and non-earth based practices which plague us as a people." The chief spook in question is the same Christian God that inspired a generation of African Americans to lead a non-violent revolution for civil rights. But Karenga, as we have seen, is not strong on non-violence. In fact, the red in the Kwanzaa flag stands for the Struggle - that is, the blood that must be shed in order for black people to be redeemed.

Now that the media, the greeting card industry, and the politicians have embraced Kwanzaa, they seem to have succeeded in sanitizing it somewhat of its separatist, socialist, and anti-American founding attributes. If it has morphed into something that can help blacks appreciate and celebrate their heritage, then it can serve some positive purpose.

Meanwhile, I shall consider it a cousin of Sweetest Day. A purely American invention, devoid of any true tradition, perpetuated in order to sell products to people who can make themselves feel better for having purchased or received them. It's Kwanzaa's greatest irony. Conceived as Marxism, Kwanzaa lives on as capitalism. What a great country.

Posted by dan at December 27, 2003 1:25 AM