Panama Jackson is joined by fellow podcast hosts Dr. Christina Greer and Michael Harriot to talk all things Kwanzaa. Panama celebrated for the first time last year and quickly realized there’s more to it than just lighting candles.
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Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio is Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. What’s going on, everybody? And welcome back to another episode of Dear Culture here on theGrio Black Podcast Network. I’m your host, Panama Jackson. And today we have an extra special episode. We are joined by two other hosts of shows here at theGrio Black Podcast Network, because we’re going to talk about something that is I want to say, beloved, but I think I don’t know that that’s true, though I do think more recently, the joy, the participation, the engagement for it is at an all time high. Today, ladies and gentlemen, we’re talking Kwanza with Christina Greer, host of The Blackest Questions, and Michael Harriot of theGrio Daily. We’re talking Kwanzaa, ladies and gentlemen, how are you all doing today?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:51] No complaints. Panama. I’m with my two great siblings. I’m happy as a clam.
Michael Harriot [00:00:56] Yeah, I feel like this is like when the cousins get to spend the night during the summer time.
Panama Jackson [00:01:03] That’s all we can ask for. You got a Wu-Tang shirt on, which makes everything even more fun. I almost wore one today myself, but I decided not to. Thank goodness. Or it would look extra. Extra something, I don’t know. But we’re here to talk Kwanzaa because it’s almost Christmas time. And I feel like in the past few years, the fervor around Kwanzaa has grown some. When I was young, I don’t remember anybody celebrating it. Now I feel like I see Instagram and Facebook and Twitter feeds full of people celebrating Kwanzaa. And I don’t know exactly what to do with this, but I think it’s kind of awesome. So I kind of wanted to talk to you all, just about Kwanzaa in general. Your thoughts, feelings, thoughts, prayers, concerns and all that. But before we get into that, I have one important question. Did you celebrate Kwanzaa, Christine? Did you celebrate Kwanzaa?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:51] No, not growing up. We knew it was there, but we didn’t we didn’t celebrate.
Panama Jackson [00:01:55] And where are you from again?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:56] I was raised in Philly, born in New York, was raised in Philly.
Panama Jackson [00:02:00] All right. And Michael, you’re like a Kwanzaa expert, right?
Michael Harriot [00:02:05] Yeah. I come from a Kwanzaa community. A guy who owned a funeral home in my hometown. I don’t know when he started it, he had a Kwanzaa celebration every year, and the Deltas would give away a bike on the last day. But because my family didn’t celebrate Christmas, we were always a Kwanzaa family. But like my whole neighborhood would be at the Kwanzaa thing. So I didn’t know that it was not really widely known until I was older.
Panama Jackson [00:02:37] So I never celebrated Kwanzaa growing up. I don’t remember ever talking about Kwanzaa. I heard about Kwanzaa, I think, when I was in middle school, when I went to middle school in Frankfurt, Germany, we had somebody come talk to us about, I don’t exactly know what he came to talk to us about, but I remember hearing Kwanzaa mentioned for the first time. So I always assume we didn’t celebrate because I was down south. But I mean you from down south, Michael, so I find it interesting, I did, however, celebrate Kwanzaa for the first time the year, the Christmas before last, I decided to jump into Kwanzaa full tilt. And I want to talk a little bit about that. But Christina, you said you all you heard about Kwanzaa, but you didn’t celebrate it. Was that just a family thing as a whole? Was Kwanzaa happening? You’re in Philly, I imagine.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:25] Oh, yeah, yeah.
Panama Jackson [00:03:27] It’s everywhere.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:28] It’s everywhere. But just in our family, we always celebrated Christmas. I mean, I knew about, you know, I saw the candles. Now I went to a Quaker school that had a large Jewish population. So like the Kwanzaa candles, candles and the Hanukkah candles always reminded me of like the same candles. I was like, Oh, the Kwanzaa candles are just red, Black and green. And my friend’s Hanukkah candles are just, you know, it’s like seven and seven. But then it was just, you know, I loved saying, Kujichagulia. Like, I knew what the days were. You know, it’s like Nia and now I’m blanking on them and Umoja and Ujamaa. So it’s like I remember, I usually get like four out of the seven, but we never we never celebrate except for one Christmas. My mom’s cousin, who owns the great Black and Wax Museum in Baltimore, she and her husband founded that and came and spent a Christmas with us. And they were just sort of like, so are you all now celebrating Kwanzaa? And we’re like, no, we I mean, I was like, if you want to give us some gifts, I’m down. But, you know, they were essentially like, it’s more than gifts. It’s not just basically like seven days after Christmas gift giving. It’s a time to reflect. So last year was the first time that I read up on it just because I did this kind of bingo card where was just for the month of February, it sort of gave you some ideas. So, you know, you’re supposed to like join a Black bank in like, you know, read a Black author and support an HBCU. So it gave you all these things that you could do, you know, learn about a Black musician, learn about a Black scholar. And so one of the things was, you know, to to celebrate Kwanzaa. So I ended up just at least spending the days reflecting on the various tenets of Kwanzaa. But I didn’t I didn’t buy the candles. I didn’t, you know, coordinate with my friends. So maybe I mean, I might be inspired. I mean, I’ve got a niece who’s of age. You should be, you know, thinking about something other than Christmas.
Panama Jackson [00:05:24] So like you, you slightly committed, you almost there, like you looked into it, but you didn’t get the kinara, the candles and none of that stuff.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:31] Oh, I didn’t even know it was called a kinara. Yeah, I need to do, I need to do some research.
Panama Jackson [00:05:37] Now, Michael, you grew up celebrating Kwanzaa. Do you still do that now? Like do you still not celebrate Christmas but celebrate Kwanzaa?
Michael Harriot [00:05:47] Well, I celebrate Christmas. Oh, I don’t know if I celebrate Christmas. Like, so I would like I was working with the Boy Scouts, so I had to go get a tree because my son was like volunteering with the Boy Scouts. So I don’t know if I ever celebrated Christmas. But I still celebrate Kwanzaa because, like, my family still does the gifts and stuff. You know, everybody will be still shopping back home for Kwanzaa gifts and like so my family is coming to stay with me, for instance, for Thanksgiving. And I had to help create a whole game plan for my sister because like, she’s one of those Black Friday people, but she goes and does it for Kwanzaa instead of Christmas. So like, I still do it because my family does like how you go step out of the Kwanzaa tradition and just like saying, you know, gifts this year, but we buy gifts instead of making them a lot of time. So yeah, I still celebrate.
Panama Jackson [00:06:53] In my family. So okay. I remember I wrote this article a couple of years ago about celebrating Kwanzaa for the first time, I guess almost two years ago now, because I had spent so much time kind of mocking Kwanzaa and clowning it. But it’s like all of a sudden we get we hit this new wave of like Black power, Black cultural consciousness and all this stuff. You know, every shirt that I was buying came from a Black store. You know, I just trying to spend my money where I could. And when I started doing that, it almost knocked every single reason I had. That was anti Kwanzaa life off the table to the point where I had to really, genuinely think about how and like, why do I not do this right? Like, why am I if I’m as pro-Black as I claim to be? Why am I out here pretending like this ain’t part of it or can’t be part of it? You know what I’m saying? And I remember seeing like some Instagram posts of somebody, like from a store here in D.C., like we’re selling Kwanzaa kits. So I went out and bought a Kwanzaa kit. And, you know, I told my wife, like you, I think we’re going to celebrate Kwanzaa this year. And she you know, my wife is African, so she’s even more like curious about all these things like, oh, look at you all. But. We decided to do it. And as I’m as we’re engaging in the seven day practice, you know, we’re sitting around talking about it, having these discussions even with the little kids. I’m like, I don’t know why I never did this. Like, it doesn’t really require much of me. Like, I’m not. We haven’t gone to any, there’s no funeral homes for me to go, go hang out at to celebrate Kwanzaa that I know of yet. But, you know, I’m kind of it’s so interesting because I don’t I feel like there’s still a bunch of Black people who are kind of anti Kwanzaa or view it as like a competition of Christmas. And it’s like if you do one, you can’t do the other. Or just like a lot of us do, and we all understand something we just like, don’t want nothing to do with it. But I really think Kwanzaa is probably one of the Blackest things that you can do. And it’s 100% celebration. I Why do you think more people don’t celebrate Kwanzaa are more invested in trying to celebrate Kwanzaa.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:59] Yeah, I think you tapped into something because, you know, I grew up in a I grew up in a very Black household. You know, my parents are both Greeks. You know, we grew up even though I went to white schools and white neighborhoods, it was like Blackity Black people in the house all the time, Black art, Black music. You know it’s like you are Black. You will not do what these white kids do. I mean, it’s very clear when it came to Kwanzaa, which is sort of like, you know, we already had Christmas. So it was just sort of we had our thing. We don’t need this extra thing. But Michael wrote a piece that I read. I wrote you wrote this a while back for another publication we won’t name. But, you know, the excuse that people always say it’s like, oh, it’s a made up holiday. And you wrote, what, every holiday is a made up holiday.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:39] So I’m curious. Is it because Kwanzaa is a more recent made up holiday? But it’s like, you know, we celebrated Sweetest Day and Valentine’s Day in school. Like those are completely made up and they’re they’re recent as well. They’re just moneymaking schemes. So I think that there’s, the root of your question, Panama I feel like there’s just a lot of anti-Blackness that Black people have. And sometimes we know we have it, sometimes we we don’t know we have it. But like when it comes to Kwanzaa in particular, there’s something that like folks like make fun of it because it’s like, Oh, now we got the mud cloth and you’re going to give me some berries. And, you know, it’s just like coins or whatever it may be. But I think it’s I think it’s time for us to kind of investigate why it is. And maybe it’s a generational thing for those of us who grew up kind of Gen Xers, in why it is that some of our parents who were very invested in making sure we knew we were Black and like had Black friends and were in Black spaces, were sort of agnostic when it came to Kwanzaa.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:37] But the more I think about it, the more I am excited to kind of tap into some of these principles, especially in this moment, like with COVID, with kind of feeling that I want to connect with Black people, feel like Black people are, you know, the older you get, it’s like the tenets that my dad said, you know, growing up, it’s like if you’re ever in a jam, then do two things like, you know, wasn’t being a police officer, it was like, find an Omega, so if I look for somebody who has on purple and gold. If you can’t find an omega, then you find a Black person, like a greek Black person. If you can find just a Greek person, just find a Black person. But it was literally was very clear. It’s like if you ever need anything that signs of in purple and gold. If you can’t then find a Kappa, an Alpha or a Sigma and if you can’t find them, then just like find a Black person and like Black people, we will stick together. Like, it’s not sadly 100% of the case, but like lean, lean in that direction always. And so growing up in a household where that’s the foundation, but then also when it comes to Kwanzaa, it’s like, yeah, we’re not doing berries and fruits and. mud cloth But I’m curious, you know, now I’ll be with my family for Thanksgiving. Now I’m going to ask my parents what it was about Kwanzaa that made them just not that interested in bringing up their two daughters in what seems like a pretty dope tradition.
Panama Jackson [00:11:53] Yeah. I mean, you know, I read all of, you know, Michael wrote like this series of Kwanzaa articles about this. I mean, it’s it effectively sounds like church revival. Like seven days a week just with, like, a kinara of candles, like was with it’s not Jesus necessarily. It’s just these Black principals that really I mean, they’re they’re Black because these Swahili words the point them out but they’re really just a bunch of principles that you can literally just abide by as a community. That seems like it would be fairly dope to do to spend like seven days actually investigating that as a family or as a community and how you can be better at those things, right? Like, is that what it was for y’all, Michael?
Michael Harriot [00:12:39] Yeah. Yeah. You know, it’s weird to hear me and for me to hear people talk about Kwanzaa, like in relation to Christmas because like, I’ve never kind of associated Kwanzaa with like, you know, a replacement for Christmas, a substitute Christmas. And but I also didn’t associate it with and this might sound strange with with Blackness, right? I just thought it was something that I knew everybody didn’t do it because like it was no Kwanzaa movies or anything like that. But I just associate it with something that like my town or my community did, right? So in the South they are usually during the spring, they’re like every town has this festival and it’s named after something in that town or that town’s history. Like my Sweet Potato Festival. And the town next to me had the Egg Scramble. But I thought it was kinda like that. Like I. It wasn’t associated with Blackness as much as it was associated with my community in my mind when I look back on it. Right. So, and it wasn’t even really churchy, right. Aside from like we would have a Kwanzaa choir that we practiced all during Kwanzaa because we were going to sing on the last day. Right. And because it was faith. Right. But other than that, it was like on collective, when you’re talking about collective work and responsibility, like everybody would do the Habitat for Humanity project. Well, you just go out there and you’d be out there all day chasing people with hammers, you know, it was just like a bunch of fun. So to me, it was a like it was a tradition, but it wasn’t necessarily like about Blackness as much as it was like, Oh, this is how you keep your community thriving or surviving or whatever it was. It was like, you know, I don’t know if we paid attention to that deeper meaning as a child, but I think it worked because it kind of, you know, rubbed off like, you know, when people in my neighborhood had to go use a caterer, they went to a Black caterer because, you know, of the principles that were kind of ingrained in us as children.
Panama Jackson [00:15:15] We’re going to take a real quick break and we’re going to come back. You mentioned something, Michael, that I really want to like tap into that I think is really important and central to this conversation about Kwanzaa and why probably people don’t do it or don’t celebrate are those of us don’t know what we’re doing. So we’re going to a quick break here on Dear Culture. We’ll be right back. All right. We’re back to our dear culture. We’re talking Kwanzaa. I’m joined by Christina Greer and Michael Harriot, two of my podcast co-hosts here at theGrio Black Podcast Network at theGrio. And we’re talking Kwanzaa. And Michael, you said something really interesting. In that last segment, which was effectively that. Because the way that you grew up, Kwanzaa was just a part of life. Right. So people it sounded to me like you grew up in a place where Kwanzaa was so norm that it wasn’t this special to do, like people are trying to make it now when you try to jump into it.
Panama Jackson [00:16:09] Right. So you grew up, y’all had, you know, for this particular day you would do this and that. It was just fun and all that stuff. And meanwhile, I’m thinking about it in the sense of I’m going to celebrate Kwanzaa. I got to find a way to specifically do cooperative economics this day and talk about like it sounds like when you you come up in a place where something is ingrained in the culture, it’s a much easier thing. You just do it, you go do it. You kind of understand what’s going on. When you have people who are introduced to something and trying to get into something like we tend to overdo it. We get extreme with it. You know, next thing you know, people are showing up in dashikis and, you know, trying to trying to give themself new names, you know, because they don’t know what they’re doing. It becomes kind of I don’t know how else to say it. It’s kind of like what we think white people would do if they start jumping into these Black spaces, like you try to create the Blackness. But when you said that you didn’t associate it with Blackness, I thought that was really deep because just like that’s just what we did. And I think that’s probably why it’s important. It’s when you jump into these things to find a space that’s already doing something that’s established. So you don’t go out and try to create something that looks ridiculous because you don’t know what it is you’re supposed to be doing. So I really liked it. I like the idea of it because. You know, I think.
Michael Harriot [00:17:24] I do wear, I cook out on the 4th of July but I’m not wearing an American flag shirt or thinking really about like the founding fathers or the Declaration of Independence or, you know, like or, you know, in like as as much as we talk about Christmas, like, I don’t really think most people, I guess about the gifts, right? Like, I don’t think most people, until they are really adults, are really get into Christianity think about like the gift of the newborn son to. Like, it’s about like it’s about the traditions and what the people in your house are doing on Christmas. Do you think about Thanksgiving as, you know, Turkey Day. Right. And that’s how I think about Kwanzaa. And, you know, later you might think about like giving thanks or what Christ gave to the world or what the Declaration of Independence means. But it’s because you had those principles ingrained in your tradition from an early age.
Panama Jackson [00:18:35] I feel inspired to try to figure out a way to kind of norm it in my house and my kids, like, get used to it. It’s just something we do, right? Like, it’s not. It’s not something that here they come with the quads and stuff again. Here, we got to go do this nonsense. Everybody sit down at the table, light a candle like I want it to be something like this. We got to find a community of people that do it. So what I tried to do when I first started celebrating was I reached out to one of my best friends. I’m like, Bro, I’m gonna do Kwanzaa this year. You should do Kwanzaa this year, too. And he’s like, All right, just to hedge my bet. I bought like a second Kwanzaa kit, and I gave it to the homie, so I took away any resistance or hesitation. I made sure that he didn’t have to go out and find found himself right.
Michael Harriot [00:19:18] What’s in a Kwanzaa kit?
Panama Jackson [00:19:20] Oh, man. In the Kwanzaa kit, I should have put went on display. That’s what my first thought was. But I got to go in my storage and pull it out. But it had like the Kinara had the Seven Candles. It had like a little a little mat, like a little mat to put the kinara on. I mean, it’s effectively just the candles. There is some corn in there. I don’t really know what the corn was for.
Michael Harriot [00:19:40] It for the display, right in front of the kinara.
Panama Jackson [00:19:44] Okay. All right. So that’s what we did with it. But I’m glad because I didn’t know what else to do with the thing. It did come with a booklet that explained Kwanzaa and the principles and like how like what day you do each thing and stuff like that in and how to, you know, how to, I guess do your own at home, little small ceremony, whatever. But you know, it was interesting because when we set this thing up for one, it’s very nice, decorative, you know, it’s red, Black and green. It’s always looks looks awesome in a Black house when you like set that lighting right up against like your photo of like James Baldwin in the back kind of thing, you know, like it’s got it’s kind of dope. I mean, it’s. I want to figure out how to, like I said, norm it for my family and for my kids, because I do think there’s immense value to be had in celebrating like these seven principles and just talking about how they could impact our life in a more substantial way. You know what I mean?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:36] Yeah, I mean, because the seven principles are something that we all could and should be thinking about, especially, uh, you know, now that I’m inspired, like, especially after kind of the abundance, it’s not even an abundance sometimes, like the overindulgence of Christmas, you know, just this constant consumerism of Christmas. It’s nice to kind of sit back and think about purpose and community and creativity and sort of the tenets that don’t involve hyper spending because, you know, there’s there’s not just Black Friday, but now there’s like, you know, Black Thursday and Tech Tuesday and like all these other ways for us to, like, spend money as opposed to spending time with community. So I think that’s I like this idea of kind of like slowing it down and getting back to a foundation.
Panama Jackson [00:21:30] If somebody was to say, Listen, I’m interested in celebrating Kwanzaa this year, how do I get started? Like, what should I do to get my Kwanzaa on this year?
Michael Harriot [00:21:42] Yeah. I think instead of, like, thinking or trying to go deep into the principles. Like, do something with the principles that kind of caters to your fam. For instance, everybody in my neighborhood who could rap or sing or like dance or do anything, on Kuumba Day, they were like, they had a talent show, right? So every, like I’m a dance in the Kuumba Show or I’m a rap or rap in the Kuumba Show.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:18] What did you do in the Kuumba Show, Michael?
Michael Harriot [00:22:21] Well, I always so I my family had like a little band and all my cousins played drums and instruments, but I did rap in the Kuumba Day. I had a rap group. Me and my best friend, we wrapped in the Kuumba Day show.
Panama Jackson [00:22:38] I’m sorry. You can’t. You got to stop right there. What was the rap group name? And is there any of this on tape?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:43] Yes.
Michael Harriot [00:22:46] I so I literally was having this conversation with one of my friends a couple of weeks ago because he says that he has a tape. First of all, I want to point out that we did win the Kuumba Show. Came in first place in the Kuumba Show. You know, I think I have that on my resumé. But my crew was named El Crew, which in Spanish means the crew. And that was back when, you know, you know, Spanish was real big in hip hop. But yeah, so we would do that. And then like they would take the little kids out in the vestibule and the art because we had an art teacher in my neighborhood was Black, so she would like do finger painting. That’s the first time I ever saw the people make the turkeys with the hands like they did all that on Kuumba Day. So stuff like that, man. Like there was always so they were like, the adults would vie to be like the most successful person because, you know, the most successful person in the neighborhood, they would come speak on Nia day. Right. And I remember when this dude, he bought this car dealership and it was like, oh, we know he’s going to be to speak on Nia day. So it was stuff like that, right? Like, I don’t even know if he was like, this is about self-determination or this is about purpose. We were just kind of those activities were kind of ingrained in, Oh, this is what we’re going to do on this day. And we would sometimes come up with new activities. But, you know, really everybody was there for that last day when they when the Deltas came with it bike.
Panama Jackson [00:24:41] I like that idea of it where it’s just such a part of the community that like every day you have a talent show on Kuumba Day. Like everybody knows the show up. Like you get ready for that kind of thing or like it’s something you probably prepare for well in advance. You don’t wait till the day after Christmas to get ready to go, right? Like it’s something that you think about. Like it’s just such a part of what’s happening. And I guess I got to figure out how to do that. Like, I like that idea. Like, instead of sitting around talking about purpose and unity and all that you find an activity or something that genuinely like celebrates that. And if you end up talking about it during the course of that, I guess that makes sense. But you’re doing something that actually speaks to those different pieces of it. But I think that’s also something you get with the experience, because if you’ve never done this before and you buy a Kwanzaa kit, you know, you open that Kwanzaa kit on the day after Christmas. So you’re like, All right, well, I got my kit out. Let me lay everything I do. I like this candle. All right, so what are we supposed to do? Okay, we. All right, y’all, let’s unity. What does that mean to y’all? All right, like you, you know, you kind of doing, like, a dollar store version of it where you seem that y’all had, like, the fully fleshed out version, like, the societal norm version of it.
Michael Harriot [00:25:51] Like there would be, like, recruiting for crews, like if you were the best singer in the neighborhood that they would be fighting over you to. You should be in our group during on Nia Day or like it was it was just kind of ingrained in you in those kinds of activities. Like people would have little talent shows and people would be singing on the steps. You know, I think those kinds of traditions kind of ingrain the meaning and not vice versa. Like the meaning determines what you’re going to do is like, Oh, this is, you know, Kuumba day we going to sing. So I think. It is. And I think it’s really kind of the great thing about Kwanzaa to me is it it’s kind of takes those purpose that takes that purpose and those principles and ingraines it in you not just as a thought, but as an action. And like you do something and you know why you’re doing it. And I think that’s the interesting thing about Kwanzaa and Kwanzaa celebrations.
Panama Jackson [00:27:03] I feel like you’ve given me some ideas. I mean, I don’t know that I’m going to pull off a talent show this year, but I can put that on the books for the homies next year. Labor like gathering. I’m actually might look for like a Kwanzaa to celebrate. I’m in D.C. There’s got to be Kwanzaa celebrations everyone.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:19] I mean, come on. Busboys and Poets, I’m sure. I mean, listen, you got your own little Jackson Four. You know, like you can put together your own little group, you know? But forget about the Jackson Five. We have the Jackson Four 2.0. So there are lots of things. I’m usually traveling, but I’m thinking about ways that I can do, like a portable, portable Kwanzaa.
Panama Jackson [00:27:41] So let me ask you a question, Michael. Was it. You were in a small town in South Carolina. I think you’re close to Florence, right? Do you know if this was, like let you all celebration this concept was common all over the place? Like South Carolina, I’ve always viewed as one of the Blackest states and always one of the few states that had like a majority Black population at one point. Like, there’s a ton of Black history. So maybe is it do you think that perhaps where you’re from, the the historical like import of the state kind of lends itself to this type of stuff. Like, do you know that people did everybody you grew up with from other places, whatever, like, was everybody doing this?
Michael Harriot [00:28:20] So I don’t know if everybody was doing this because like my cousins, I think I wrote about a story where like all of my cousins were staying with us for Kwanzaa because they, you know, they loved the Kwanzaa thing, too. But I know they did it in like nearby towns because like one of my stories was about like going to Florence to see my cousin. Like, I got a rich family legacy. My cousin won the Kuumba talent show in his town, and I snuck out, I got in trouble for sneaking out of the house to watch my cousins group sing a rendition of BBD and win their Kuumba show. So I know people around in nearby towns also did it. I don’t know if this was as big. Their talent show was actually bigger than our talent show because it was a bigger town. But I again, I thought it was something like it was a community thing, like, oh, I’m a go to the Florence Kuumba Show this year because my cousin is performing in it. So again, I thought it was like a neighborhood thing, like neighborhoods get together and have Kwanzaa celebrations like neighborhoods get together and go caroling as far as I know. Like, I thought that was something people did for Christmas because I saw that on TV. Right? So I thought, I never see nobody going around with ad hoc choirs singing door to door in my neighborhood. But I saw a bunch of people fighting over Kuumba Day groups. So it was just like the how I grew up.
Panama Jackson [00:30:03] You know, I’ve just been inspired to write an article about songs that Black popular songs that could also be Kwanzaa carols. Like. L.L. Cool J. Paradise, for instance, you know, and well, that doesn’t really work. He has one line in there that works. But I’m going to have to spend some time thinking about songs that actually fit the specific like, I don’t know, like they’re got to be songs about co-operative economics. We just don’t call it that, you know, just, I don’t know, I’m going to spend some time with this. It was a half baked idea that I just have this. We’re going to take a quick break and come back, because I have another question for you both about Kwanzaa and where we go from here., here on Dear Culture. All right. We’re back here on Dear Culture. We’re still talking Kwanzaa with Christina Greer and Michael Harriot and have a couple questions. I’m going to come back to to Kwanzaa caroling, because I got to think a little bit more about some of the songs. And I learned on the break that there actually was a Kwanzaa carol and I want Michael to sing it for us. I don’t know if he’s going to pull it off or not, but I have a more general question about Kwanzaa and Black culture at this point. You know, I opened the show talking about how in a past couple of years, I think like this, we’re in this new era of like Black power, Black consciousness. And I feel like people are more invested in interested in like Black joy and Black celebration than we were when I was growing up. Not that it didn’t exist, but like the outward display, the active, like the intentional part of it seems to be a constant now. Christina, do you think that the environment, the climate is ripe for Kwanzaa to kind of make the leap into mainstream Blackness. Do you think it could? It doesn’t seem like it took much to get you over the hump to being inspired by it.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:57] Yeah, well, I just think, you know, maybe because social media and COVID have brought together so many different types of folks. You know, when we were all home, it kind of brought down a lot of walls, not just between celebrities and non-celebrities, but I think that there’s been like some really interesting class conversations that have been going on. And there’s some like obviously I talk about this in Black ethnics, but like diasporic conversations going on and sometimes they’re a little uneasy. But, you know, just for example, like the day that Black Twitter met Irish Twitter. Right. And, you know, when the queen died, sadly. But that was like that was Jamaican Twitter, you know, like there was the Caribbean Blacks. That was the continent of Africa Blacks, and it was Black Americans. All had something to say about England in the U.K. more broadly. And I was like, Oh, it is like meeting your long lost cousins. And it was feeling like a little sleepover-esk, you know, this is this fits.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:54] So I’m excited just because I do think that some of it is wrapped in, you know, that kind of like this fake Kente cloth holiday like we don’t really know that that part. It kind of felt you know it felt like it felt like that episode of Good Times and Thelma was dating the African dude, and they all had jokes, but it just it felt fake, you know? It just felt like she was kind of trying on something that wasn’t real. And that’s what Kwanza initially felt like, I think for me and a lot of the people that were in my set growing up. But this just feels like, you know, as Michael said, it’s not just about the words memorizing the principles, but like putting them into practice. And I think a lot of us are interested in building community. I think a lot of us, you know, we saw this with with during lockdown, like the creativity of Black folks, not just online, but, you know, when people were like making things or making masks or just making whatever it was to sell. And we were really clear. It’s like we got to support our own because if we don’t, then who does? So, you know, this larger movement of, you know, even buying Black.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:58] So I’m I’m excited because I think the journey that I’m on, that I’ve been on for a long time is like to just constantly build community with Black people. And I’m very clear to look to my students, my colleagues, everybody. I’m like, there are two things I care about in this world, cities and Black folks. And so, like I study cities because cities usually have Black folks. But like at the end of the day, I care about all different types of Black folks. So this is just another another way to build community and build connection with Black folks. And I mean, if I can learn something, I can learn something. I mean, it is interesting. I feel like I want to have the conversation with your wife about Kwanzaa because, you know, so much of Kwanzaa, I think, is rooted in this like African identity that is important and connected, that can sometimes feel a little forced or strained, but like it’s still worthy of detangling. And in having a conversation about.
Panama Jackson [00:34:55] Yeah, my wife definitely didn’t believe in Kwanzaa. So she is like what is this?
Michael Harriot [00:35:01] It’s not a thing you believe in. That’s the thing, it is not a thing you believe in, like you don’t believe in the 4th of July or Thanksgiving, like you don’t believe in those things. It’s a tradition that you celebrate.
Panama Jackson [00:35:17] I think, what you’re saying, though, I think is where a lot of people just get lost with the. I don’t I don’t know if the messaging for Kwanzaa just hasn’t quite like landed the way that it needs to. Or if all the people we see, like the outward displays of quote unquote Kwanzaa, have been a turnoff for some people, like I genuinely am curious about why more Black people don’t celebrate. Because everything that you said makes so much sense. It’s a tradition celebrates in finding ways to be intentional about some of the things that you’re doing in the community. It’s community centric. It’s a community event. It’s like a seven day community event at that. Right. Like it’s basically a week long celebration of, you know, whatever you turn it into. So I’m just I don’t understand why in the world it’s so difficult to get why say it’s so difficult but. I guess I just I don’t understand why this isn’t more of a thing that has already been in play. Like, I just I guess, I don’t know, lot of, like, the founder, you know, I don’t know if Ron Karenga was the issue, like people like our mess buddy so out on that, like. I don’t know. I’m just I’m just I’m curious, like, do you think, Michael, that this is a good time to try to get more people invested in into Kwanzaa because of how Black we all seem to be, intentional we all seem to be with our Blackness nowadays.
Michael Harriot [00:36:40] Yeah. I think it could be just like like Juneteenth, right? Once you knew it was, it existed and what it meant, then you could get into it. And I think Kwanzaa is the same way because, I mean, if there is such a thing as believing in Kwanzaa, then I think Black people, all Black people believe in Kwanzaa. Everybody believes in self-determination and purpose and creativity. So I think kind of being intentional about doing things that you already believe in or setting aside a time to be purposeful about doing things you believe in is easy and I don’t know if it has to be even elevates. Like to me it’s kind of like a, like a high school homecoming or something like that. Like it it could be it doesn’t have to be a thing that you always did. It could just be a community thing or a family thing or a group thing. So yeah, I think it is the time is the perfect time to do it. You’re going to, you know, pick a Kwanzaa playlist of carols that we’re going to put on Spotify. I’m tasking you with this, by the way. That is going to that explains all that or not even explains why it just exemplifies all of the Kwanzaa principles. So look for that Panama playlist coming up soon, and we’re going to do it. Let’s do.
Panama Jackson [00:38:12] This. And I’m all for this. I’m genuinely like, since I said that out loud, I’ve been in my brain trying to come up with seven songs that I could see here to just show how witty I am with my music knowledge. And I can’t do it because I have to really spend some time thinking about it. But you also mentioned that there was a Kwanzaa carol, that y’all are saying at the end of like at the end of Kwanzaa. What was the Kwanzaa carol? You ain’t got to sing it necessarily, though. I would love to see that.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:38:35] I would love that.
Panama Jackson [00:38:36] I would love that. But what are the words to the Kwanzaa carol?
Michael Harriot [00:38:41] So yeah. So the Kwanzaa carol was written by Rosalie Hunter, who was also like, she sang like Mahalia Jackson and she would, you know, she would lure us into choir practice every year with cupcakes that had candy in the middle of cupcakes. Right. You could only get one if you came to Kwanzaa choir practice and on the last day, they would have all of the choirs of all of the churches would come for the last day, right? For faith. But the Kwanzaa chaoir, a kids Kwanzaa choir would, you know, be the like the closing act and we we’ll sing the Kwanzaa carol. And it was basic, like it was so simple because it was just the way it goes, “we are celebrating Kwanzaa. Yeah. Yeah, we are celebrating Kwanzaa, yeah, yeah, we’re celebrating Kwanzaa and all the principles.” And then each, she would pick out seven kids, and they would be like sing a half of solo like Umoja is unity” and you know, then you’d sing that first verse again and then you’d sing out the next thing. But that was the Kwanzaa carol, man. I love that song. And I. I could not wait every year to be on that Kwanzaa, kids Kwanzaa choir, boy. I mean, it was mostly about the cupcakes. But there is, besides Teddy Pendergrass, Rosalie Hunter. I think she probably made the first Kwanzaa carol.
Panama Jackson [00:40:30] I feel like I got to go on like one of these streaming services and just type in Kwanzaa and see what comes up. Because I feel like there’s got to be songs. Like in fact, I, you know, because I have little children, I often try to find songs that both my kids can enjoy, but also like have some 808 to them. And I feel like there was a song recently released by one of those like, like Gracie’s Corner or something like that. That was like a Kwanzaa, a Kwanzaa song. I feel like that just happened. I hope I don’t make I hope I don’t think I’m making it up. But I want to look into that because I feel like. This goes back to my I feel like it’s just like the time is ripe for more intentional displays of Blackness and Kwanzaa seems to fit right into that.
Michael Harriot [00:41:09] I’ll give you one more little tidbit. Like, I have a friend who was in the Kuumba Day talent show one day, one year, and it was a girl rap group. And they did a rendition of Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y, but they did “U.M.O.J.A.”
Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:33] That’s great.
Michael Harriot [00:41:35] I have too many Kwanzaa stuff.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:36] Panama put that on the playlist. That’s solid
Panama Jackson [00:41:38] As soon as you said Queen Latifah. I was like U.N.I.T.Y. Right there. Right there. It was just waiting. It was just sitting there waiting.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:46] Well, I mean, I think this dovetails beautifully into, you know, my very first op ed that didn’t get published was a tribute to Queen Latifah and the brilliance and genius that she is as a rapper, singer, actress, crossover model, talk show host, all the things and Panama I know you just wrote like a Queen Latifah post, but I mean, I feel like we don’t talk about Queen Latifah enough. Like she, I mean, the fact that we can say U.N.I.T.Y. and it’s like Queen Latifah. You’re talking about unity in the nineties, like in a in a just a totally different plateau than anybody else. Oh, I love this woman.
Panama Jackson [00:42:18] Well, surprisingly, that Queen Latifah article get shared like every week. Every week I get some Twitter notification of somebody illustrating the Queen Latifah article. Like, that thing is traveling. Like, I’m not saying it’s doing millions, but it just keep every week.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:32] But here’s the crazy thing I wanted. I tried to write this this before I joined theGrio and Amsterdam News, but like I wrote this op-ed about Queen Latifah and nobody was interested in it. And I just thought that she was this amazing. It was the 25th anniversary of the Black Reign album, and I was like, And she does all this like with her clothes on, too, and she’s not a size two. Like, I just thought it was fascinating. She’s like, amazing artist and entertainer, you know? She’s in Juice, for Pete’s sake. Like, she’s been everywhere, but nobody was interested at the time, so I’m glad that she’s getting her flowers.
Panama Jackson [00:43:03] The Queen Latifah biopic is on the way. It’s coming. Biopic. Biopic, however you say. I say biopic. I know.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:10] I say biopic. I don’t like biopic, but whatever.
Michael Harriot [00:43:13] Me either.
Panama Jackson [00:43:13] Yeah, well.
Michael Harriot [00:43:14] Sounds like a disease.
Panama Jackson [00:43:16] Yeah, it just don’t sound right. But I hear people say it.
Michael Harriot [00:43:19] You know I got the biopics.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:21] Right? You got to go on Tuesday your biopic.
Michael Harriot [00:43:24] In the nineties.
Panama Jackson [00:43:25] There you go. All right. Well, I think we’ve reached a reasonable end to this discussion about Kwanzaa. But I want everybody to have an opportunity. Some last thoughts. Anything where you are with Kwanzaa now, I. Well, Michael’s already there, but. I don’t know. Any last final thoughts about Kwanzaa? I have some final thoughts. I will I will bring up the rear on that one to close this all out. So, Christina, do you have any final thoughts about this Kwanzaa conversation?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:54] I’m traveling this year, so I don’t know if I’m if I’m going to say I’m going to sit down for all seven days. However, I am going to be cognizant, you know, with my candles and my Kinara, but I am going to be cognizant of the seven days and I’m going to think about you two as I celebrate the seven days. Michael I can’t sing. I lip sing in church, but I’ll think about something else to do creatively as well to celebrate, because I think it dovetails really beautifully with what theGrio is doing with the three of us trying to do with our writing and our podcast. And I just think it’s like a nice, seamless way to go into 2023 collectively.
Panama Jackson [00:44:30] Sounds good. Michael, what about you?
Michael Harriot [00:44:33] Yeah. You know that would be be a fun like you can do it by yourself or with some family. Like you can pick out a movie that exemplifies each one of the Kwanzaa principles, and that could be a Kwanzaa celebration for each day. Like, we’re gonna sit down or I’m going to sit down and watch a movie about unity or about self-determination or about, you know, collective work and responsibility. And you could be imaginative and pick you a Kwanzaa movie or come up with your own Kwanzaa movie playlist that is your own celebration of Kwanzaa.
Panama Jackson [00:45:12] Michael, you task me with the music list. I feel like since you put the movie list on the table, you got to come up with the movie list, the seven day Kwanzaa movie list. I feel like you got to come up with that one. I’ll take care of the music. You got to come up with the movie list because that was a great idea right there. That was a great idea.
Michael Harriot [00:45:29] Yeah, we could do that.
Panama Jackson [00:45:30] I plan on celebrating this year with my family again. I will try to find new, inventive ways to actively do it, as opposed to just the sitting down at the table, lighting a candle and trying to talk about unity with the with the six year old. I probably would land a little better with some specific intentional activities and things like that. So I’ve been motivated in that way and I hope more people will participate. I mean, it’s a it’s a seven day celebration right after Christmas that is literally full of principles that I think we can all know, love and appreciate. And I think as a Black community, there’s no reason not to engage in something that all brings us closer together, that has unity literally as one of the principles. So, you know, hopefully we can maybe we can get Kwanzaa to be more of a popular more of a commonplace occurrence in the Black community. Because why not?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:46:25] Why not?
Panama Jackson [00:46:25] Why not? All right. Well, I want to thank you all for being here on Dear Culture, which is an original podcast of theGrio Black Podcast Network. I am your host, Panama Jackson. The show is produced by Sasha Armstrong. Regina Griffin is our managing editor of podcasts. I want to thank Christina Greer, Michael Harriot for joining us for this conversation. My name is Panama Jackson. Have a Black one.