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Friday, December 10, 2010

Kwanzaa: An Inauthentic Holiday Created by a Torturer of Women Pt.1

Well , it's that time of the year again. December 10th already and you know what that means... only 16 more days until my favorite manufactured, socialist, racially divisive holiday Kwanzaa starts.

I thought I'd celebrate by re-posting my Kwanzaa pieces from January.

I read this little blurb "Reflection on Kwanzaa" by Shay Riley at Hip Hop Republican, and decided I couldn't just sit by and let this one pass without comment. Kwanzaa (wikipedia link for those unfamiliar with the holiday) and its creator Maulana Ron Karenga (originally named Ron Everett) is a bit of a raw nerve with me. I hope that if you read the whole entry here, you can, perhaps, see why.

From Riley (in its entirety):

"I have mixed opinion about Kwanzaa. I’d argue that it’s based on culture - however garbled - not race. I don’t buy many conservatives’ claims that Kwanzaa is a racially divisive holiday, unless one is prepared to argue the same for St. Patrick’s Day (which is practically its own very-secular holiday here in Chicago). Critics charge that Kwanzaa sets up Christmas as a 'white' holiday, and thus isolates blacks from others. One of my aunts calls Kwanzaa a 'devil’s' holiday, designed to undermine the gospel of Jesus Christ among blacks. Calling Kwanzaa an invented holiday - which it is - is meaningless, as invention is behind all holidays. And while Maulana Karenga’s history of abusing women is highly problematic, I believe that events can transcend problematic founders (look at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia back in 1787). I don’t see the holiday as anti-Christian, but I’m not religious.

"Many bookeristas have also taken Kwanzaa to task for promoting socialism, but I don’t have a problem with the Kwanzaa principles per se: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). The ujima and ujamaa principles certainly sounds socialist, but any of the Kwanzaa principles can be interpreted to mean that through private means we should help others. I do think that these principles - if the focus is on private efforts, and not Big Government - have merit year-round in building black communities.

"I don’t have a problem with a black American-specific holiday, but my main issue with Kwanzaa concerns authenticity. Kwanzaa isn’t rooted in black American culture and experience. While the official Kwanzaa website calls it a 'celebration of family, community, and culture', why is the holiday a mishmash of East African cultures when the overwhelming majority of black Americans are of West African origin? Nor is it even a holiday that resides with Africans. Kwanzaa thus contributes to the stereotype that Africa is just one big blob, with few if any inter-country differences. This viewpoint is ironically a strange bedfellow of many white attitudes towards Africa, as if one can switch African cultures in and out at will. Black Americans should certainly learn more about Africa. However, Kwanzaa - with its misinformation about our African heritage - falls short of this goal."

While Riley's conclusion is ultimately true-- that Kwanzaa is "a mishmash of East African cultures," that it "contributes to the stereotype that Africa is just one big blob, with few if any inter-country [and racial, and ethnic] differences," and that it lacks "authenticity,"-- she reaches this conclusion but denies pretty much all the factors that would create a common definition of authenticity.

Kwanzaa's purposefully invented nature, its racial divisiveness, Kwanzaa's direct attack on religion and attempt to replace it with socialist doctrines, and Karenga's own history of violence (including the imprisonment and torture of women) are all mentioned, but rather off-handedly dismissed by Riley. Frankly, I just can't abide that and I thought I might address each of these in my response.

"The Story of Kwanzaa" is an eye-opening short essay written by J. Lawrence Scholer and the editors of The Dartmouth Review. Click on the link for the entire piece. I won't reprint the whole thing here, although it is short, but will use selected quotes from it to cover some of the facts glossed over by Riley.

Riley denies that Kwanzaa's made-up nature is any problem for its authenticity. "Calling Kwanzaa an invented holiday - which it is - is meaningless, as invention is behind all holidays."

In a way this point is difficult to address, as the generality of this statement makes it almost meaningless. Exactly what form of culture, what item, trait, accomplishment, or artifact within a society is not a human invention? In the broadest possible strokes, Riley seeks to build some of sort of equivalency between all holidays by virtue of their common human origins, or at least a human recognition of a holiday as such. This is ludicrous and sloppy. With this same logic, why can I not draw the same level of equivalency between Thanksgiving and the hi-lighter sitting here on my desk based on this implied criteria-- I mean they're both human inventions, right?

Okay, but let's restrict this line of thought in ways that Riley does not do (it is a very short work and perhaps it is terribly nitpicking and unfair of me to criticize her logic in this way) and restrict the talk to holidays. Riley sees no difference between Kwanzaa and, let's say, Christmas. She doesn't acknowledge that there is a difference between a religious holiday that celebrates the birth of the Christian religion's namesake and a set of days made up by a man with an immediate and very contemporary political agenda (more on that in a second). Perhaps I should whip out some red, white, and blue candles, declare January 12th "TeaPartia" and insist that it's a holiday that is, in all intents and purposes, the equivalent of Christmas.

Even if one were to divorce Christmas from its religious nature, one is still left with centuries of tradition and various forms of celebration. Yes, the more readily identifiable traditions are not nearly as old as popularly thought to be. The Victorians were really the ones to turn what had become a drunken and oftentimes riotous holiday (sort of a winter Mardi Gras) into something more approximating the "peace and goodwill among men" that are at the holiday's Christian roots. And yes, the day itself was a Christian usurpation of a pagan holiday celebrating the winter's solstice. But all of this, a mere portion of Christmas' convoluted history, is part of the cultural complexity that makes a holiday what it is. It doesn't merely exist because some small group of people (I am talking here about Karenga and his handful of cronies at Kwanzaa's inception on Dec. 26th, 1966 and not about the Black American population-- don't even try to interpret my words that way) say that it did. To draw an equivalency by paralleling the contrived origin of Kwanzaa with the long and complex history (and the accompanying cultural resonance and feelings) of other more readily accepted holidays is nonsense.

Riley denies that Kwanzaa is an alienating holiday, designed to be segregationist. "I don’t buy many conservatives’ claims that Kwanzaa is a racially divisive holiday, unless one is prepared to argue the same for St. Patrick’s Day (which is practically its own very-secular holiday here in Chicago)."

Oh, I think I can claim Kwanzaa is divisive without arguing against St. Patrick's Day. Let's go ahead and use the words of Karenga while doing it. Let's briefly establish Karenga's mind-set with some quick facts about Karenga. To begin, he helped establish the United Slaves Organization (US) in 1965, a radical black nationalist-- or "cultural nationalist" as Karenga would describe it at the time-- group.

In the late 60s (the actual dates seems fuzzy and ranges from 1967 to '71-- the book is copyright itself is '67) Karenga wrote and published The Quotable Karenga edited by Clyde Halisi and James Mtume. Important research detail: To qualify all this I have to state that I have no idea as to the source of this PDF link in this entry-- the source blog does not allow uninvited visitors like myself to its homepage. I do believe this to be a genuine scan, while the book itself is hard to find (I'm not paying $300 for it on Alibris) and a bit mysterious (Karenga himself does not list the 30 page book on his own webpage), the cover scan of the PDF matches an actual first edition of the book and much of the material within the scan jibes with my own research on Karenga including the "Seven-fold Path of the Blackness" on page 5. So I want to be absolutely clear that I am arbitrarily accepting this PDF as genuine without knowing anything about the source. Important research detail UPDATED 12/10/10: The link to the PDF of The Quotable Karenga is down after less than a year. This is very unfortunate. I've run several web searches and have been unable to find another source without actually purchasing the booklet from Amazon for nearly $50. I can assure you that the quotes I relate are 100% accurate from the booklet.

Contained within the 30 pages of the book(let) are gems like these that attempt to both divide black from white and to unify black at the exclusion of white. *note all page references are the book pages and not the PDF file's pages.

"There is no such thing as individualism, we're all Black. The only thing that saved us from being lynched like Emmet Till or shot down like Medger Evers was not our economics or social status, but our absence." Page 1-- the first quote of the book.

"If we could get a nigger to see how worthless, unimportant, and weak he is by himself, then we will have made a contribution." page 2

"Black people aren't superior or inferior to one another, but complimentary. We are all on the same level but in different categories." page 3

"The sevenfold path of blackness is think black, talk black, act black, create black, buy black, vote black, and live black." page 5

"Thinking Black is thinking collective minded." page 5

"Individualism is a white desire; co-operation is a Black need." page 5

"Black values can only come through a black culture." page 6

"Man is only man in a philosophy class or a biology lab. In the world he is African, Asian, or South American. He is a Chinese making a cultural revolution, or an Afro-American with soul. He lives by bread and butter, enjoys red beans and rice or watermelon and ice cream." page 6

"To talk Black is to start talking 'we' instead of 'me.'" page 7.

"We want integration-- integration of dark and light Black people." page 16

"We should not be blamed for talking separation. Racism in America has already decided this. We just want to be separate and powerful, not segregated and powerless." page 18

"Brothers must watch out for whites who are rebelling against their own society and uses the wave of Black revolution to push their cause." page 29

"White people can't be Black peoples friend. A friend is your alter-ego and a reflection of yourself." page 30

"All whites are white. White doesn't represent a color it represents a mentality that is anti-black." page 30

"To say the white boy would wipe us out if we moved against him is to say he is bad. Why would he wipe us out if he were not bad?" page 30-- the last entry.

Beyond these examples, reading through this work cover to cover leaves little doubt as to where Karenga stands in terms of racial integration and makes clear his view of the both the established and desired relationship between blacks and whites. So now, I believe, we have a decent idea of Karenga's mind-set at the time of Kwanzaa's inception on Dec. 26, 1966 (remember The Quotable Karnega was copyrighted in 1967). Taking these quotes into account it's a bit hard to believe that when Karenga says "We must institute holidays which speak directly to the needs of Black people," (page 5) that he is suggesting that Kwanzaa is something that should, in any manner or way, be inclusive to whites or any other peoples. There is really is no way that Kwanzaa can be anything else but divisive.

Riley brings up St. Patrick's Day, again offering some sort of equivalency between this traditional Irish holiday and one that was contrived in 1966 by Karenga. Just to restate Riley writes: "I don’t buy many conservatives’ claims that Kwanzaa is a racially divisive holiday, unless one is prepared to argue the same for St. Patrick’s Day (which is practically its own very-secular holiday here in Chicago)."

Well, I can't make any claims to possessing intimate knowledge of Chicago's St. Patrick's Day celebrations. While I've been to Chicago several times in my life, I was never there on St. Patrick's Day. However, where I grew up (in Southern California) St. Patrick's day was basically wearing some article of green clothing to grade school so you didn't get pinched (do they still do that?), having Irish-themed meals, and stapling paper shamrocks to the classroom walls. When I got older, the St. Patrick's day celebrations pretty much became drinking green beer and spirits at the local "Irish pubs" dotting Los Angeles and San Diego. There was never any particular exclusivity (my wife was always served with the same courtesy as I was) and the make-up of the crowds were racially mixed-- no I wasn't keeping count, but I can assure you that it was never even close to all white. Any recent attempt by some bigot or white supremacist to make St. Patrick's Day a racially exclusive holiday a) has not been popular enough to make into my general knowledge (and I don't think I'm all Pollyanna on the subject), and b) is not the fault of the holiday itself.

Yes, you can argue that St. Patrick's Day is exclusive in the sense that it is an Irish holiday. That's right. It's origins are that of an Irish holiday. The same can be said of Hanukkah a Jewish holiday, or Ramadan a Muslim holiday, or Diwali an Indian holiday. Describing a holiday as "exclusive" simply because of its place of origin cannot be thought of as equivalent to describing Kwanzaa-- a holiday arbitrarily invented by a black separatist/nationalist that was intended, from its very inception, to be racially exclusive. I'm sorry, but they are just not equivalent in this manner.

Now, let me address Kwanzaa being an anti-religious holiday. Riley writes, "Critics charge that Kwanzaa sets up Christmas as a 'white' holiday, and thus isolates blacks from others. One of my aunts calls Kwanzaa a 'devil’s' holiday, designed to undermine the gospel of Jesus Christ among blacks. [...] I don’t see the holiday as anti-Christian, but I’m not religious."

Whether Riley is religious or not, I think that she should be comfortable coming to the conclusion that Kwanzaa is anti-Christian after we, once again, examine the nature of Karenga's beliefs as reflected in his own words, and what he writes about the purpose of Kwanzaa.

In The Quotable Karenga, Karenga's antipathy toward American mainstream religion is evident as these following excerpts (a mere sampling) demonstrate.

"Christianity is a white religion. It has a white God, and any 'Negro' who believes in it is a sick 'Negro.' How can you prey to a white man? If you believe in him, no wonder you catch so much hell." page 25

"Jesus was psychotic. He said if you didn't believe what he did you would burn forever." page 25

"We are Gods ourselves, therefore it is not good to be atheistic or agnostic. To be an atheist is to deny our existence and do be agnostic is to doubt it." page 26

"The time we spent learning about Jesus, we should have spent learning about Blacks. The money we spend on church should have been spent on our community and the respect we gave to the Lord should have been given to our parents." page 26

"If you realize how human Jesus was you'd see he was no God." page 26

"Next thing Christianity deal with is spookism which is a degeneration of spiritualism." page 26

"They taught us Christianity so we could be like Jesus-- crucified." page 27

"Jesus said, 'My blood will wash you white as snow'. Who wants to be white but sick 'Negroes', or worse yet-- washed that way by the blood of a dead Jew. You know if Nadinola bleaching cream couldn't do it, no dead Jew's blood is going to do it." page 28

This next quote probably best illustrates Karenga's contempt of Christianity:

"The Christian is our worse enemy. Quiet as it's kept it was a Christian who enslaved us. Quiet as it's kept it's the Christian that burns us. Quiet as it's kept it's a Christian that beats us down on the street; and quiet as it's kept, when the thing goes down it'll be a Christian that's shooting us down. You have to face the fact that if the Christian is doing all this there must be something wrong with Christianity." page 27.

Karenga has directly said that "Christianity is a white religion," so I think we can safely make the logical step forward that he would view Christmas as a white holiday. Given Karenga's penchant for separating black and white, again amply evidenced by (and directly stated within) his own words, we can therefore presume that his intention at setting up Christmas as a white holiday is indeed to" isolate blacks from others."

As Scholer points out in his essay, Karenga said as much himself. "Thus, Karenga explained in his 1977 Kwanzaa: Origin, Concepts, Practice, 'Kwanzaa is not an imitation, but an alternative, in fact, an oppositional alternative to the spookism, mysticism and non-earth based practices which plague us as a people and encourage our withdrawal from social life rather than our bold confrontation with it.' The holiday 'was chosen 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.'"

No matter how not religious one may be, the fact that the creator of Kwanzaa is a black separatist with an obvious antipathy for Christianity and states that Kwanzaa is "a Black alternative to the existing holiday" gives ample evidence to the critics' "charge that Kwanzaa sets up Christmas as a 'white' holiday, and thus isolates blacks from others."

Yes, Karenga has backed away from this position more recently as Scholer notes. "Since then, the holiday has gained mainstream adherents, and Karenga has altered its justification so as not to alienate practicing Christians: 'Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday,' he writes in Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, published in 1997." This more recent statement is, as can be clearly seen, a lie. Karenaga has written publicly that Kwanzaa was an alternative to, in his directly stated view, "white" Christianity.

I'm not really going to address Riley's aunt's claim that "Kwanzaa [is] a 'devil’s' holiday," but perhaps you should keep this characterization in mind as I later write about some of the facts of Karenga's history of violence and mental illness.

Continued here in Part Two.

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