December 27th, 2006

coyote Phil

Why I don't like Kwanzaa anymore

Kwanzaa, which started yesterday, came up in conversation, and it occurred to me that a lot of people seem irritated by Kwanzaa. I hadn't really thought about it before - I'd figured that it's fine for people to propose alternatives to Christmas for non-Christians. Jews have Hanukkah, which is an ancient celebration, although I wish they'd decide once and for all how we're supposed to spell it. Pagans have whatever Christmas was called before it was called Christmas. Pale Nordic pagans have Yule. Atheists have a variety of competing Christmas-substitutes, including Newtonmas and the "Human Lights" or something that's new this year.

So I did a little thinking, and a little Googling, and now I don't like Kwanzaa anymore. Here's why: It's not supposed to be an alternative to being Christian. It's supposed to be an alternative to being white. As Ron Karenga, creator of Kwanzaa, said (according to today's Wikipedia), he created Kwanzaa "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." He later said that "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday."

It would be fine to create a new holiday to honor Black history and/or culture. My beef with Kwanzaa is the way it was proposed - not as a new holiday, but as a renunciation of America's favorite holiday, and of American culture.

The 7 Principles of Kwanzaa are now listed as:
* Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
* Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
* 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.
* Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
* Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
* 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.
* 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.

However, /The Quotable Karenga/ gives their original versions as
* Live black
* Talk black
* Vote black
* Buy black
* Act black
* Create black
* Think black

The entire purpose of Kwanzaa, it appears, is to widen the divide between the races. It is to encourage African-Americans to think of themselves as different, and to isolate themselves from American culture.

In other words, whereas I had always assumed that Kwanzaa's purpose was to help bring the races closer together, its real purpose is the exact opposite.

In recent years, Karenga has adopted a more-inclusive view that it's OK to celebrate both Kwanzaa and Christmas. Maybe something good can come of Kwanzaa. But now I understand the irritation.