50 years later, black people should give Kwanzaa a second look
Tis the season, and Kwanzaa is here.
Created 50 years ago, the much maligned, misunderstood holiday is back — not only this holiday season but to help black America precisely at the time we need it most. Simply put, the African-American made holiday — now practiced by people of African descent around the world — is made for the times.
And times are hard, just begging for those seven principles.
Over the years, Kwanzaa has been the subject of much criticism for a number of reasons, including claims that the holiday is supposedly “made up” and the fear associated with the creation of black radicalism, whatever that means. White folks have perpetuated these notions, because that’s what society tends to do to black people — question the legitimacy of the things black people do and denigrate any positive efforts in our community in an effort to undermine them, and us.
Let’s focus for a moment on the claim that Kwanzaa is a ”‘made up” holiday. What holiday was not birthed from the mere idea of its creator? Someone somewhere decided to create a holiday around the narrative about a child of color born to a Palestinian refugee family.
Somewhere down the road, things changed, and people decided to chop down a pine tree and put it in their house and throw in a man in a red suit and some reindeer into the narrative. And for good measure, why not give this child blond hair and blue eyes if you’d like?
This is not to cast aspersions on Christmas trees, because many black folks have them in their homes. Yet no one is questioning the origins of other holidays, their origins and the ways in which they are culturally appropriated. So why are we questioning Kwanzaa? Is it because we believe black people cannot create anything meaningful, particularly with a message that can enhance the quality of our lives?
Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of black studies at California State University, Long Beach. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. Inspired by African harvest or “first fruits’ traditions, Kwanzaa is centered around seven principles known as the Nguzo Saba:
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)
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.
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Kwanzaa is 50 years old, and it is more relevant now than ever. Lulled into a false sense of security and complacency, we thought the civil rights movement was over and later thought having a ‘brotha’ in the White House would lead to him waving a magic wand and making it all better. We thought we could leave the hard work of preserving the black community to Barack Obama. And while his racist detractors believe no black person should have that much power, he was not powerful enough to cure black America of its ills.
No one has that capability.
And while some were ready to pop open the champagne and celebrate a post-racial America, black people soon had a rude awakening to what Gil Scott-Heron called “Winter In America,” where we’re “Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor,” as he sang: “And all of the healers have been killed/Or been betrayed…And ain’t nobody fighting/ ‘Cause nobody knows what to save.”
African-Americans today find their backs against the wall, to be sure. We’re under attack and losing ground, and even the black Santas are under siege! Black people lost massive wealth in the Great Recession, and with it, our homes. The racial wealth gap is growing, and it would take over two centuries for the average black family to build the wealth of a white family today.
We face massive unemployment and protracted institutional racism. Black folks with a college education are not faring as well as whites with a high school diploma, and that’s truth. Our children can’t find a summer job, and their daddies are shot like dogs by two-legged dogs in the middle of the street, proclaiming “Blue Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again.”
Meanwhile, we built this country for free, and they tell us we’re lazy. We live with the trauma of centuries past but also the pain of the here and now. And when the symptoms of our trauma manifest, they blame us for our moral failings and social defects.
Given all of this, black folks need to work together, fortify and support each other. This is what Kwanzaa is all about — from the #BuyBlack and #BankBlack movements, to groups working together to fight injustice and improve the condition of our community, to the recent State of the Black World Conference in Newark.
The principles of Kwanzaa are what we need to move forward, while still allowing us to maintain our religious and spiritual traditions and celebrate the other holidays of the season. This is why we need Kwanzaa, and why it’s important for us to live Kwanzaa all year round.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove