Kwanzaa is the wonderful celebration of African American unity that was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor and Chair of Africana Studies, California State University-Long Beach. He conceived of this celebration after the Watts Rebellion of 1965 as a means of bringing back unity and as a way for African Americans to refocus on something positive. Dr. Karenga used his knowledge of ancient African culture rites to create Kwanzaa, which is loosely based in the African practice of celebrating First Fruits. Numerous African cultures celebrated in this way in order to give thanks to God for His bounty.
Nzugo Saba – Seven Principles of Kwanzaa http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/origins1.shtml
So in creating Kwanzaa, Dr. Karenga wanted to help us as black people to redirect our energies and help us refocus on building ourselves in a positive way, since we are a captured nation within a colonizing nation. The 1960s was a powerful time in history and black people were asserting their power in many ways. Historically black people in America have been systematically destroyed in every arena – economics, education, spiritual, and mental. We have no idea who we are. We are nobodies in the white man’s land. We have been stripped of our cultural connections, and often are used as tools in our own oppression. We try to tak on the oppressor’s cultural norms as a means to authenticity. Unfortunately, we are never allowed to forget that we are considered inferior. Kwanzaa rose up in the midst of this spirit of black reawakening so that we wouldn’t allow the Watts rebellion to sidetrack our forward progress. It is a vehicle upon which we can strengthen ourselves, and rebuild and reconnect to the best aspects of our forgotten culture.
But I’m sad to say that the spirit of Kwanzaa has been lost to many of our black people, or they never truly understood Kwanzaa beyond the outward symbols of the candles, candle holder and cloth that is used in the ceremony. For me, these folks have an understanding that’s like a racist white’s understanding, and they are ashamed, and unwillingy to overcome that shame. Because everything that black people create in America is ALWAYS maligned or appropriated, a lot of foolish talk and straight out bashing has attached itself to Kwanzaa. Today, I was just on a website thread with white people mocking Kwanzaa as being a FAKE holiday, and a copy of Hannukah, which is ridiculous. As we know, there are certain white people who cannot stand for there to be black unity of any kind, and they feel compelled to try to stamp it out. They use the argument that because it was created in 1966, it’s fake. As if the creation of new traditions are an impossibility.
That’s to be expected from white racists. But when our black youth do the same thing as the racist and mock Kwanzaa instead of learn about it, we have to acknowledge just how pervasive and powerful the White Western machine is. What’s taught and what’s not taught speaks volumes. Black culture is not consistantly taught in racist culture. We probably get 1% of our black history lessons in American public schools. I know this is true because while I was on Twitter today, I read numerous tweets from young black people proudly mocking Kwanzaa. This is a sad example of the miseducation that we too readily embrace. We are made to feel ashamed of who we are, so we openly reject our traditions. We spend no time studying what our traditions are about. We don’t believe they are about anything, because we don’t believe WE are about anything.
Kwanzaa was created to counteract this very thing, but we wouldn’t know that because we are afraid to learn about it, and ourselves. We have so deeply internalized that we are good for nothings, (except dance, song, sports) that we fear going past the surface of the controversy (all black culture is controversial) and delving into the meat of the thing. Because Maulana Karenga was “an FBI informant” the ancient African principles he re-introduced are invalid. Well my people, Malcolm X was “Detroit Red”, a zoot suit wearing pimp, but can we discount his important example and contribution to black self-determination?
That’s why it’s imperative that we name ourselves for ourselves, which is another principle of Kwanzaa, and set our course for ourselves. We don’t call Malcolm X Detroit Red. We call him El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Should we call Maulana Karenga “FBI Informant”, or Brother Karenga, double PhD? We have to learn to bring balance to our black scholars, heroes and sheroes! Do white folks call Thomas Jefferson a rapist slave holder? No, they call him Founding Father of “this great nation”. We need to always hold up our heroes just as everybody else holds up there heroes. We have been miseducated and trained to throw the baby out with the bathwater when looking at our black heroes. If they have done questionable things in their lives, we are made to be ashamed, then we invalidate the person in total, and toss out of the important work and research they’ve done as well. This is not effective for us as a people, and it’s foolish.
Building a black community with concrete infrastructures – schools, businesses, churches, connections to life, ways to sustain ourselves and employ ourselves. People, that’s all Kwanzaa is about. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.