All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest - never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principle of equal partnership.
-- Ann Landers
I'm not married to LaShawn Barber, but we used to be league mates in The Conservative Brotherhood. LaShawn, however has outgrown our smallish coterie and has become a blogging superstar on her way to media stardom. It is therefore with a bit of sadness that I fnd myself having to battle her over a matter of personal concern, which is the integrity of Kwanzaa. I've had to deal with Malkin on this before as well as some stuff written years ago by Mulshin. Now Ambra's got troops on the wrong side of this too. (sigh)
Although I didn’t ask to be, I am probably the foremost authority currently writing on the origins and meaning of Kwanzaa on the web today. That’s because I was there at the beginning. Any of you who care to get a nuanced understanding of these origins are welcome to check out my blog which has plenty of references, some serious, some lighthearted. Right now, I need to be serious.
The most important thing that I would like to stress in this post is that Kwanzaa is not anti-Christian. It has transcended its roots and has become something different than what it started as. I think what it has become depends entirely on the spirit of the people who celebrate it. Which is to say that somewhere there is someone just as evil, wicked, mean and nasty as LaShawn states who celebrates Kwanzaa just to spite people like LaShawn. I’m not sure it’s very charitable to consider them as the poster children for Kwanzaa. If anyone, I am the poster child for Kwanzaa. As I said, we started it.
When I say we, let's get one thing clear. Ron Karenga didn't go from house to house burning down Christmas trees and demanding that blackfolks substitute Kwanzaa. The people of the time, including my parents, the Ligons, brother Damu and other families took the celebration into their homes and spread love and started the tradition. So if you learn one thing from your 'What is Kwanzaa' question, keep in mind that Karenga is not the celebration, but the spark. His Kawaida philosophy made a big book and everybody didn't live their life from it like a bible, Kwanzaa was simple and good. Think of Karenga as you might think of Jefferson or Franklin, but understand that among the founders were my family. If you want to hate, know who you're hating. You're hating me and my family, and I don't appreciate being lied about.
I’m sure many of you have heard the old saw ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’, and there is no Christian of any experience who doesn’t know some fakers who are the reason the other expression ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is in existence. Just as there are fools who call themselves Christians and attend service for the wrong reasons, there are fools who celebrate Kwanzaa for the wrong reasons. That’s not who we are here to talk about.
The reason Kwanzaa was created lies fairly parallel to why the Afro was created, why ‘black is beautiful’ was created and why James Brown sang ‘Say it Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud’. It was about evolving a mindset towards independence and liberation. It was about black people doing something for themselves for a change - not demanding that the government, or Jesus, do things for them that they ought to be doing for themselves.
Today we take it for granted that there is a level of independent mindedness among African Americans that nobody ever expected of the Negro. And in creation of that omlette, a lot of eggs needed to be broken, a lot of militant posturing, angry rhetoric and loud protests were made. That’s called mental revolution and it doesn’t come easy. Sometimes people are crucified for radical ideas. That’s the way of the world. But I think anyone with half a brain recognizes that militant posturing, angry rhetoric and loud protests are associated with Kwanzaa. It’s in Wal-Mart already - the place that can’t handle gangsta rap.
To the extent that the Negro Church was considered the only legitimate expression of African American culture in the 60s, the founders of Kwanzaa and like-minded people fought bitterly for attention. Anyone who has watched television to see the most ignorant blacks ‘represent the community’ knows exactly how intolerable that can be. Imagine that in the days where the very idea of a black journalist working on a white newspaper was unheard of. This is the proper context for understanding the antipathy between kwanzaa’s founders and the black church.
Such antipathy is no longer necessary or encouraged. Anybody who says different is just shouting to be shouting. There is plenty of room for Kwanzaa and Christmas. I celebrate both and I think I do so in the proper spirit without contradiction. But every year ignorant people come out of the woodwork the spit on Kwanzaa as racist, separatist, militant and anti-Christian. Why? Why is Osama bin Laden? Why ask why? I just have to deal with that nasty fact, and every year it gets me more and more steamed, even though I try not to be. The insults are intolerable.
I understand that there must be some orthodoxy in Christian sects which forbid the celebration of Kwanzaa or any number of other events not on the official calendar. I don’t have any problems with Jehovah’s Witnesses who find birthday cakes to be blasphemous or Southern Baptists who find Harry Potter sacreligious. That’s them, but that’s not all Christianity. But I would hardly expect to take a Jehovah’s Witness’ word on what goes on in the minds of people who celebrate birthdays. So I don’t expect that reasonable people should give anti-Kwanzaans a great deal of credibility as to what goes on in my mind when I celebrate Kwanzaa.
So here's my message to all you Christians who think they are doing the world a favor by spreading ugly ideas about who celebrates Kwanzaa and why. Stop burning your crosses on our lawns. Your ignorance and hatred is nauseating.