Identity & Culture

Don’t give up on Kwanzaa just yet

It is December, which means it will soon be time for the most under-celebrated holiday ever known to man: Kwanzaa! I know what you’re thinking. Who the hell celebrates Kwanzaa? Exactly. As evidenced by this article and this strangely depressing conversation among four young Black women, not most of us.

As a side note – I personally believe that one of the most heartbreaking phenomena occurs when grown, educated Black people attempt to distance themselves from all things African. Their negative and limited conceptions of Africa are often evidenced in the misguided desire to make statements such as, ‘I’m not African, I’m Black.’ 

Um…ok.  And most Jews weren’t born in Israel but they still honor and respect it as an ancestral homeland. Please work on this, my people. 

I digress…Kwanzaa is a perfect example of some Black people’s strong desire to connect to something that positively represents their origins (yes, we had a history prior to slavery and encounters with Whiteness). It is most definitely an aspirational holiday, not originated or much celebrated on the continent of Africa, but developed by African Americans hoping to create something of our own that would be distinct from (though not in opposition to) mainstream American holiday celebrations. And admittedly, it is pretty eclectic (can we please just forgive our brothers and sisters with the North African names speaking in an East African language while performing West African rituals? At least they are covering all bases.)

For many Black folks, Kwanzaa triggers a lot of anxiety. After all, if you are convinced that the epitome of success is to be liked and accepted by White people, why do anything to stand apart from them? Breaking away from an abusive relationship is hard, and engaging in self-affirming behaviors can feel odd if you’re accustomed to being a victim.

Furthermore, Kwanzaa will never be promoted to us by commercial media since corporations haven’t quite yet figured out how to commodify and make large amounts of profit off of principles like unity, self-determination, and cooperative economics.The final nail in the coffin of mass Kwanzaa-mania is that celebrating Kwanzaa requires one to embrace the fact that he or she might be, in some shape or form, connected to Africa (gasp!).

So this year, as in all years, we have a choice. We could choose to appreciate and celebrate Kwanzaa for what it is – the attempt of a beautifully hybrid people to reconnect with our complex roots and forge new traditions for future generations to lean upon. The effort of a people (whose ancient traditions were largely lost, stolen, forgotten, merged, or abused out of them) to celebrate the universal human values of self, family, and community. The chance for a people, once dehumanized and dispirited, to celebrate all that is good within them and paint a powerful vision of their collective past, present, and future.

Or we could simply dismiss and reject Kwanzaa, either out of ignorance of its meaning or fear of its implications. And if we do that, be warned: based on the rules of cultural appropriation – I can guarantee that in ten years mainstream America will “discover” Kwanzaa, dust it off, make it sparkly, Whiten it up a bit, and sell it back to us for exactly $399.95 plus tax.

You just watch.

RELATED VIDEO: The Black Candle


One thought on “Don’t give up on Kwanzaa just yet

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