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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Thoughts on Kwanzaa 2006

I'mma let ya'll in on a secret. Ready? I got a problem with Kwanzaa. I know I know for the past three years I've been out there defending Kwanzaa, but I gots to keep it real. I got a problem with Kwanzaa. My problem is this. I don't think it means what it used to anymore. Maybe I'm being too sensitive but let me give a couple of examples of what I mean.

Two weeks ago I was at a school concert and there were the Channuka songs and the Christmas songs and then this thing they called the 'African Noel" that was purported to be a Kwanzaa song. This feeling went over me that I could best describe as what I presume native Africans who don't know about Kwanzaa feel when they get wind of the celebration: This is just wrong.

See the problem here is that there is no Kwanzaa song as far as I know. Though folk may sing during Kwanzaa celebrations I ain't never ever heard of an African Noel. During this 'African Noel" the only principle of Kwanzaa brought up was Kujichagulia (self-determination). I presume that Kujichagulia and Nia and Imani (self-determination, Purpose and faith respectively) are the "safe" principles that people can discuss without 'guilt' or some sort of racial ill feelings. This is a problem. Kwanzaa's growing popularity is fueled, in my opinion, by making it a safe celebration. If you see mainstream news reports of Kwanzaa celebrations you'll see dancers and drummers and people in "african costumes". You'll see advertisements by major corporations featuring people in gran bubas and walking sticks. Wishing you the best!

See my problem stems from the seriousness I take my ideologies. I left the Christian church because I no longer shared the belief. I stopped attending because I thought it disrespectful to disrupt the services and beliefs of those who chose to believe the way they did. An open forum is one thing but going to the place of worship or celebration when one is not "in the spirit" is, in my opinion, pretty disrespectful.

When I learned of Kwanzaa, I understood it to come out of a culture nationalist tradition. Created by Maulana Karenga my understanding was that Kwanzaa was specifically made to address the cultural alienation that Africans in America have from their ancestral roots as well as to forward a cultural if not political Pan-Africanism among the AA population. It was never meant to be a replacement for any persons religious observations such as Christmas, Ramadan or Hannukah. Instead it was an addition specifically for African-Americans with the hopes of bringing them into a permanent , year round Pan-African ideology. So for example, the use of KiSwahili was used out of the recognition that Swahili is the largest native African language spoken in Africa that is not restricted by country or tribe...largely. The use of Red Black and Green is a direct reference to the Pan-Africanism of Marcus and Amy Garvey thus there can be no Kwanzaa without the discussion and meditation on Pan-Africanism. So to have a Kwanzaa song that is neither Pan-Africanist and attempts to strip Kwanzaa of it's roots is problematic to me.

Thus my problem. See just as I left the Christian church out of respect for those who did believe, I think that people who are latching onto Kwanzaa for reasons other than its intentions ought not participate. Aint no "Father Kwanzaa" aint no "African Noel" Kwanzaa song. If there are Kwanzaa songs, they are freedom rider songs. They are Bob Marley's "Get up Stand up". They are Peter Tosh's "African" They are Public Enemy's " Shut Em Down". No Kwanzaa greeting cards from Hallmark. You're supposed to make this stuff yourself.

Kwanzaa will not be Kwanzaa if the meaning is lost. It's like when the Malcolm X stamp was made in the US. It gave people the excuse to act like they "knew" Malcolm X. Everybody and their momma will tell you how much of a "human rights activist" he was but aint never read his works or studied his life. Similarly I now get non-black people telling me about Kwanzaa.

"Oh it's so nice."
"Oh yes, you know."
"The kids were singing this Kwanzaa song. I mean it was made up but it was so much fun."
"really. Fun you say? And what was the message?"
"oh, well. You know the black kids...."

Yes, Kwanzaa as black kid recognition time. the "you have some culture too" attitude. And I completely understand. The way these schools are and this society is, black folks culture is rap music, slavery and the civil rights movement. Every other group that is here can trace back specific traditions are religions to their home countries except African-Americans. Universally, Black Americans are people without their own and constantly latching onto what other people have, be it religion, dress, food.

So if people can go through Kwanzaa and learn nothing of Pan-Africanism or of African culture of the continent or the Diaspora, then really, what is the point?

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Anonymous said...

I feel ya on this. Becoming an effective "African-American" takes some effort, and creating Kwanzaa (and other)institutions are a part of it. In our area, we use the time as a way to continue to expose our families and friends to Pan-African and nationalist ideas and behaviors. It's normal. Not all will be educated towards these ancestral imperatives, but like you, we just keep goin at it!

Anonymous said...

I guess you don't think the idea of sharing one's culture with those of other cultures is a way of introducing them to it and having others become acquainted and participating in it?? You're sounding like another example of aparteid or exclusivity!! We have all borrowed from one another's cultures throughout the ages of mankind. You would have it that only Christians can sing christmas songs; Jews, channukah songs; Africans, spirituals. Every song throughout the ages started somewhere, with someone, sometime in eternity.
In ages to come these kwanzaa songs will be of the same tradition as our now festive Christmas and Chanukkah songs, if you will allow it.

Unknown said...

There is an ever expanding body of Kwanzaa music including the Seven Principles cd by Kwame Steve Cobb and Chavunduka.