It's that time of year again!
December 26, 2004 12:10 PM   Subscribe

It's Kwanzaa! Today begins the seven day celebration of the principles which make the African People and their descendants, and ultimately Humanity, great. While I don't celebrate, I will take the opportunity to learn more about the holiday and to hold the Seven Principles in mind.

Now it's back to watching my new In Living Color and Chappelle's Show DVDs.
posted by Eideteker (85 comments total)
 
http://dark2k1.com/modules/gallery/images///TV/Futurama/What%20the%20hell%20is%20Kwanza.jpg
posted by Eideteker at 12:11 PM on December 26, 2004


>>Now it's back to watching my new In Living Color and Chappelle's Show DVDs.

non sequitur
posted by naxosaxur at 12:15 PM on December 26, 2004


Actually, ILC is an excellent example of Nguzo Saba.
posted by Eideteker at 12:18 PM on December 26, 2004


I have a problem with Kwanzaa.

It's not that the holiday is a total fabrication--all holidays are fabricated. Nor do I care that is has been commercialized, that there are Kwanzaa cards, candles, and self-help books. Indeed, which holiday in America is not commercialized? No, the reason I don't celebrate or recognize Kwanzaa is because the language and practices of that occasion are drawn from an African tribe that is not mine...

While African Americans enjoy their invented tribal holiday, real Africans look to America as an escape from tribalism. Indeed, the best possible gifts that black Americans could give black Africa are their tribal-less music, customs, books, hairstyles, and dances. A holiday that celebrated the traditions and practices of a tribal-less black America would probably be more useful to black Africans as a whole than one that got at all involved in the messy and usually bloody business of tribalism.

There is an example already in language: English, the language of the oppressors, unifies black Africans because it is not the native language of any black African tribe. English also unifies black Africans with black Americans. Similarly, the fact that black Americans are not attached to a tribe (or tribes) means that they have created a unified African-American culture, one that offers Africans a better example for unification than anything you would find in Africa itself.


Not My Tribe, Real African-American Culture Is Superior to Pseudo-African Culture by Charles Mudede

And at least one can be fairly certain that Mudede is not expressing himself on the topic merely for an excuse to goof upon those funny stupid black people.
posted by y2karl at 12:33 PM on December 26, 2004


This post seems kind of patronizing to me. And, seriously, what do ILC and Chappele's Show (which, incidentally, I also recieved for Christmas) have to do with any of this? I mean, they're great shows, but it's kind of like saying you're going to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm and a Woody Allen movie in honor of Passover.
posted by cilantro at 12:34 PM on December 26, 2004


Now it's back to watching my new In Living Color and Chappelle's Show DVDs.

"Ha ha ha. Those negroes do have silly celebrations, don't they?"
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:34 PM on December 26, 2004


Ah, perhaps you should include links from more than just one site. Here's wikipedia's, and their article on the Creator of Kwanzaa.


I didn't know it was started in 1966, interesting.
posted by odinsdream at 12:36 PM on December 26, 2004


In Living Color was one of my strongest ties to "Black Culture" when I was growing up. After my parents divorced, I was living in a white neighborhood with my white mother, and I didn't really have any exposure to half of my heritage. Aside from ILC, the most "urban" I got was hanging out with the white kid around the corner who listened to rap. But it was cool, we didn't really think about that kind of stuff, it was just what was on TV and what was on the radio. To me, the idea behind Kwanzaa is the blending of all the strengths that make us a civilization, and unlike Dr. Karenga, I think it works without regard to race. "Be colorblind, don't be so shallow." To you, maybe that's a stupid En Vogue song, but it's also Black Culture. Nothing is unimportant if it carries a positive message and makes you smile.

Yes, this is my first FPP, and yes, I hope it sparks discussion. I do want to hear what everyone's got to say, so long as it's additive.

On preview: thanks for the assist, odinsdream. I was worried about the homogeneity of the links; thanks for your suggestion and addition. Next time, I will look for some other viewpoints on Kwanzaa, like Charles Mudede's as added by y2karl above.
posted by Eideteker at 12:46 PM on December 26, 2004


This seems like a fairly sombre holiday. So is it acceptable to have a "Crazy Kwanzaa" ?
posted by Celery at 12:58 PM on December 26, 2004


Celery: I'd like to think so. But it looks like the crowd is not accepting my chosen method of celebration!
posted by Eideteker at 1:24 PM on December 26, 2004


Interesting. I liked your viewpoint, Eideteker (are you really an Eidetiker?), and I liked the link to Mudede's essay, y2karl.

And, you know, what everyone said about a couple of contrasting links generally being better in FPPs. But so far, so good.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:41 PM on December 26, 2004


Something about "all holidays are fabricated" bothers me (from y2k's quote). Maybe I still want to believe in Santa Claus...

Interesting topic, though. Does any significant number of people actually celebrate Kwanzaa? Or is it just a (possibly) nice idea? It looks a bit new-agey. Not that that's bad!
posted by Turtle at 1:57 PM on December 26, 2004


"I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Kwazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan. Finally, a word from my One True God, our sponsor..."

--the great philosopher Krusty The Klown.
posted by jonmc at 1:58 PM on December 26, 2004


Well, all holidays are "fabricated" in the sense that they're "agreed upon by human beings". Thanksgiving, for example, and Bastille Day are wonderful holidays that came into being fairly recently (though not as recently as Kwanzaa), despite contemporaries' complaints that they weren't "real holidays" and "were just advancing a political agenda".
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:03 PM on December 26, 2004


Sidhedevil: Actually, my memory is more phonographic than photographic, but hey, I get by. As for the moniker (and spelling thereof), it's taken from Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, which I read waaay back when I met John Douglas and wanted to be an FBI Profiler.

On preview: Turtle, I was hinting at the less-than-widespread practice/understanding by linking the image from Futurama. I don't know of any real figures for Kwanzaa celebration (though google provides this link, for which you may need bugmenot), but it's not huge. But coming from as multicultural a background as I do (when asked for my race, I just put "American"), I like to pull from many sources to celebrate life every day.
posted by Eideteker at 2:06 PM on December 26, 2004


Me...I just open a bottle of SKYY...now that's a celebration!
posted by black8 at 2:12 PM on December 26, 2004


amen black8, celebration=inebration. And I'll be frank, I've known quite a few balck people in my life, and I've never met a singel one who celebrated Kwanzaa. But any excuse to crack the cask...
posted by jonmc at 2:17 PM on December 26, 2004


Sidhedevil: I think it's the slip from "agreed upon by human beings" (positive) to "fabricated" (negative) that bothers me. That's all. "Fabricated" is unnecessarily cynical. Unless indeed deliberate deception is involved.

So instead of "all holidays are fabricated", I'd rather say something like, "Every day's an excuse for a party". :-) On preview, as Eideteker said.

So Kwanzaa sounds like a nice idea that hasn't really taken hold. It's actually very hard to invent new holidays. Here's a suggestion: holidays are either 1) religious, or 2) celebrating a major historical event (involving people dying), or 3) they feel kinda silly (President's Day?).
posted by Turtle at 2:32 PM on December 26, 2004


So what does it say to you that here we are in 1997 and the pan-Africanist/cultural nationalist agenda is the one that the commercial side, that Wall Street has fastened onto--that side seems to have been triumphant and that the anti-imperialist movement is, not in retreat, but certainly not being heard from as much.

Angela Davis: It doesn't surprise me that aspect of the black nationalist movement, the cultural side, has triumphed because that is the aspect of the movement that was most commodifiable and when we look at the commodification of blackness we're looking at a phenomenon that's very profitable and it's connection with the rise of a black middle class I think is very obvious. As far as the tradition of struggle and tradition of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle I think that is one that has to be fought for and recrafted continuously. It's not going to happen on its own, it's not going to be taken up by the capitalist corporations and presented as something that is both profitable and something that is pleasurable to masses of people.

In a way I find it interesting that Kwanzaa -- you know Karenga's ideas which apparently seem to have been financed by the FBI, at least in part, are the ones that now most black folks would say they would hold to and not the ideals of the Panther Party which were about survival, at least in some part an economic survival.

Angela Davis: To a certain extent I think both traditions have survived. The cultural nationalist tradition has been commodified and therefore it has been worked into the whole institution of capitalism in a way that the traditions of struggling against police violence have not, but those traditions are still very much alive. As a matter of fact I think that the response to the OJ Simpson trial was based on a kind of sensibility that emerged out of the many campaigns to defend black communities against police violence. It just so happened that a figure like OJ Simpson was the one who benefited from those sensibilities, but I think it's important to affirm the fact that sensibility continues to exist and a kind of desire for black movements continues to exist even, I think, among middle class black people.

This accounts, I think, for the success of the Million Man March because black people tend to think of themselves as a people in struggle. This has been our history within this country and there's a kind of nostalgia for those moments where the struggle becomes dramatic and visible and powerful, although the Million Man March wasn't such a moment, I would argue, because there were no political demands that addressed the major problems that black communities are confronting yet there were the images of struggle, there were the images of masses of people that I think affected and brought pleasure to and moved so many black people. Now perhaps we can use that. Perhaps we can rely on that as we try to build movements that will address the impoverishment of masses of black people, the prison/industrial complex. I have to maintain some hope that that's possible. But at the same time I think it is important to acknowledge the extent to which the black middle class tends to rely on a kind of imagined struggle that gets projected into commodities like kente cloth for example on the one hand and images like the Million Man March.

posted by y2karl at 2:33 PM on December 26, 2004


Kente cloth (while we're learning stuff... I didn't know what it was).
posted by Turtle at 3:06 PM on December 26, 2004


Give Kwanzaa some time--it's a baby compared to other holidays. (and i'd rather we had an invented positive holiday, rather than an official 9/11 day or something, which is soon to come i bet)
posted by amberglow at 3:12 PM on December 26, 2004


I'd like to hear more about Karenga and the FBI tho.
posted by amberglow at 3:23 PM on December 26, 2004


"Ha ha ha. Those negroes do have silly celebrations, don't they?"

Wouldn't it be racist to nod your head in agreement even if you think it's silly?
Personally, I oppose all forms of Nationalism regardless of thier
origin. If the list of prinicples linked-to in the post were placed underneath a picture of a white family, you'd all be crying foul.
posted by Luke Pski at 3:27 PM on December 26, 2004


Don't worry, amber, as far as I know, people don't celebrate defeats. Ever. That would be scary indeed.

A bit of a tangent: an example of a somewhat successful invented holiday is La Fête de la Musique, invented 20 years ago by the French Minister of Culture (what's worse is it's a pun: "fête" (celebration) = "faites" (make)). It's a great excuse to go out and hear or play music all day and night. It spread beyond France, even to Carrboro, NC.

Maybe if everyone else could take part, Kwanzaa would be more successful. But I guess maybe it's only meant for black people? Dunno.

Amber: you asked for it: Coulter is the first thing Goog turned up...
posted by Turtle at 3:28 PM on December 26, 2004


Has anyone else noticed the similarity between "Dr. Karenga" and "Dr. Kananga"?
posted by Eideteker at 3:38 PM on December 26, 2004


the thing i don't understand is why kwanzaa, more so than any other holiday, is held up to the "it's not ancient and not too many people celebrate it" legitimacy test.

not that i'm accusing any one in this thread of doing so, but it often seems like it's safe for people who don't like blacks to critcize or belittle kwanzaa so that they can mock or denigrate blacks by association. for example -- and it's just one example, i'm not holding it up as absolute proof -- check out the discussiuon on the kwanzaa article on wikipedia: people have had to keep removing racist statements that a certain would-be contributor have made, and that person keeps disingenously insisting that they're just trying to speak truthfully about the history of the holiday.

i think people who feel threatened by kwanzaa and allow that fear to manifest itself as denigration are of the same mold as people who fear gay marriage: they view life as a zero sum game, and feel that any gain by people who are not mainstream america necessarily represents a loss for mainstream america.

that said, i'm black and i know plenty of blacks who do celebrate kwanzaa. and you know what? i wouldn't give a damn if nobody i had ever met or known celebrated it or was even aware of it. let those who want to celebrate it celebrate it, let those who wish to celebrate other holdiays -- and they're all fabricated or agreed upon and almost all of them are commericalized -- celebrate theirs in peace without being belittled, as long as no one is being forced to celebrate any holdiay they don't wish to celebrate.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:45 PM on December 26, 2004


We had to move it to September, Turtle. It's too hot in June.
posted by crunchburger at 3:49 PM on December 26, 2004


the thing i don't understand is why kwanzaa, more so than any other holiday, is held up to the "it's not ancient and not too many people celebrate it" legitimacy test.

Er...because it's the newest? Just guessing.

Sure, lots of people who have problems with Kwanzaa do so out of racism. Just like lots of rectangles are squares. But not everyone who finds it goofy due to its newness is a closet racist, any more than all rectangles are squares.
posted by Bugbread at 3:51 PM on December 26, 2004 [1 favorite]


y2karl, I know you hate my guts and think I'm passive aggressive, but your posts here are an excellent response to this inane FPP, and I'm appalled that no one's is addressing them. Angela Davis is a commie rat, but I respect her point of view here, and Charles Mudede's remarks have given me a new way of thinking about African-American culture. Much obliged to ya.
posted by Faze at 4:13 PM on December 26, 2004


Props from me to y2karl as well.
posted by Bugbread at 4:20 PM on December 26, 2004 [1 favorite]


Faze, I agree y2k's posts were very interesting. But not that the post was inane. Maybe it's my imagination, but I'm thinking the apparent inaneness, the reliance on a single source, and the pop culture references were a way of acknowledging the apparent poignant flimsiness of the holiday while questioning it at the same time. So props to both.
posted by Turtle at 4:26 PM on December 26, 2004


Faze: I ask this in all seriousness. What would have made this FPP less inane?

Be gentle, it's my first time.

Myself, I was surprised to see that this was the first time Kwanzaa was mentioned in five years on MeFi, other than as an addition to the OED. I would've included other links, but I wanted to keep things fairly unified, and I wanted to find out what other people had to say.

(I am not at all displeased with the way this has turned out.)
posted by Eideteker at 4:47 PM on December 26, 2004


>>What would have made this FPP less inane?

Rather than derail the thread even more, if you tell me your email address, I'll send you a list of penalties.
posted by naxosaxur at 5:58 PM on December 26, 2004


I've known quite a few balck people in my life, and I've never met a singel one who celebrated Kwanzaa

Well, that settles it! ...Oh, wait; I forgot that it's not good argument to extrapolate a generalization from anecdotal evidence! Silly me. One good reason for that is that someone will always have an anecdote to support the opposite point as well, and therefore anecdotes don't advance the argument.

But in the spirit of canceling out the weight of that statement, here: In the years I spent teaching in Philadelphia, I knew many families who celebrated Kwaanzaa. I would suggest that the celebration of this holiday is probably more widespread among the middle class than the working class; but that's based on my observations only, as that was the population I was working with in a private school.

Personally, I'm all for declaring any kind of special day you want and seeing whether you can get people on the bandwagon (Talk Like a Pirate Day, anyone? Buy Nothing Day? Great American Smokeout? World AIDS Day?). I especially welcome a holiday that is values-driven, and focuses on personal and community betterment. Indeed, I would like to see those values celebrated in the dominant culture as well, but I'm afraid opportunities are pretty scarce. If Kwaanzaa means that for seven days, a percentage of Americans decide to devote their time to celebrating and reflecting on their successes and potential for growth, in what way is that bad, suspect, or silly?
posted by Miko at 6:09 PM on December 26, 2004


it's not bad, suspect, or silly--it's just new, and not widely celebrated yet.
posted by amberglow at 6:15 PM on December 26, 2004


What would have made this FPP less inane?
I wouldn't hurt your feelings for the world, Eideteker. It was quite a fine post, really. Easily the best Kwanzaa post to appear on a major American weblog this year. Very neatly done, with all the edges lining up nicely, and no fingerprints or glue dripping over the edge. And there's no getting away from the fact that it roused y2karl to post a link that I found extremely interesting and thought-provoking. So I wouldn't describe it as inane. I did at one time, I admit. But I take it back. I think you should be proud of this post. And I think you should be proud of yourself. Please accept my best wishes for the holiday season, and my fondest hopes that you will continue to posting to Metafilter with full confidence that all of your future posts will be eagerly anticipated, welcomed and heartily enjoyed by

your most obedient servant,

Randolph J. Fazenmeyer, III
posted by Faze at 6:17 PM on December 26, 2004


Faze is just being snarky now--ignore him, Eideteker.
posted by amberglow at 6:20 PM on December 26, 2004


I'm suspect of anything that is based on racial identity/Nationalism, which Kwaanza is . Imagine a European family dedicating one day of seven to celebrate
"Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together."
posted by Luke Pski at 6:23 PM on December 26, 2004


There's not much difference between that, and buyblue and chooseblue, or the whole "pink dollar"/"pink pound" stuff, etc.
posted by amberglow at 6:30 PM on December 26, 2004


Imagine a European family dedicating one day of seven to celebrate "Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

First, I thought of saying "And what would be wrong with that?". As I said above, have whatever day you want, and see how much support it garners. If such a day was widely celebrated, there would indeed be discussion of it and perhaps opposition to it.

Then I thought: Wait -- for many Euro-Americans, these days already exist. They're known as -- St. Patrick's Day; the feast day of St. Anthony, and the like.

In any case, this sort of 'flip-it-on-its-head' argument comes up frequently in discussions about race and ethnicity. However, it's not a very useful practice, because of the relative political and cultural power of the two groups in question. The European-American culture is the de facto dominant culture in the US. There's no need for such a holiday because the systems in the culture basically make every day a Day of Cooperative Economics for 'white' Americans. For African Americans, an ethnic group which was formerly legally oppressed in this country and presently the target of an undue amount of discrimination, to agree that it would benefit their families and communities to patronize one another's businesses is a positive and defensive measure, designed to counteract systemized discrimination in the dominant culture.

For the dominant culture to declare such a holiday, knowing the history of oppression that gave rise to the need to exercise the Kwaanzaa values, would be to continue to aggressively assert its dominance. It would not be the 'same thing' because its motivation and cultural effects would be entirely different.
posted by Miko at 6:41 PM on December 26, 2004


amberglow: Yeah, I knew I was sticking my neck out by asking a serious question. I'm not the one who looks like an idiot, though. I'm sure Faze will catch on when my next FPP is just as inane as this one because he wouldn't help me improve when I asked for help.

naxosaxur, you can speaktome at my gmail address .comrade.

Miko: I'm all for any day that allows me to celebrate what makes me great. I'm part Irish, and I love St. Pat's. And I was born on the feast day of St. Anthony, so it's safe to say I celebrate that, too (FUN FACT: Anthony was my confirmation name).
posted by Eideteker at 6:56 PM on December 26, 2004


Helluva first post, Eideteker; may there be many more.

black8: Skyy? Not bad. In the spirit of umoja, I'll hoist some of the black stuff and go over Cobb's Kwanzaa cartoon and Kwanzaa research.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 6:58 PM on December 26, 2004


Ooh, did someone say "part-Irish"?
posted by allaboutgeorge at 6:59 PM on December 26, 2004


aag: Well, it certainly got people talking! Thanks, and I appreciate the links.

Before this day of Umoja ends, can anyone find any links discussing how Kwanzaa was meant to unify Christian and Muslim Blacks? That aspect seems to have been swept under the rug somehow....
posted by Eideteker at 7:18 PM on December 26, 2004




Happy Love Day everyone!

There's no need for such a holiday because the systems in the culture basically make every day a Day of Cooperative Economics for 'white' Americans.

Yes, we're notorious for co-operating with eachother economically. When minority-type folks aren't looking, we just give eachother shit for free all the time.

/sarcasm
posted by jonmc at 7:40 PM on December 26, 2004


jonmc, I feel you. Here, have an SNL skit. It's on me.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 7:58 PM on December 26, 2004


Thanksgiving wasn't made an official US holiday until 1941, and there was a ton of controversy about it in the 19th century (former Confederate States, for example, were resistant to it because it had first been proclaimed by Lincoln, &c.)

There was also a lot of controversy about US celebrations of St. Patrick's Day in the 19th century. It was seen as a festival of ignorance in which the subhuman Irish would run riot through the public streets (I'm paraphrasing actual contemporary comments cited by Noel Ignatiev in How the Irish Became White).

The problem is this: is Kwanzaa supposed to be a St. Patrick's Day for African Americans who are the descendants of formerly enslaved people? Because if it were structured that way, it might have more appeal.

One problem with it is that the pseudocultural apparatus was created at a time when African Americans whose ancestors had been enslaved were the overwhelming majority of "black" people in the US. Now there are an increasing number of African, West Indian, and Caribbean emigres and their descendants in the US "black" community, who, at least as I've heard from friends and cf. the Mudede link above, find the whole mystic Africa Swahili handwaving silly or even offensive.

Also, given that so many African Americans who are the descendants of former slaves are devout Christians and really throw themselves into celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa is superseded as a holiday on that front; and, given that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day comes so soon after, Kwanzaa is sort of superseded as a celebration of "black" heritage there (and it seems that, at least in Boston, the African and Caribbean communities of color really really embrace King Day in a way they don't embrace Kwanzaa).
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:07 PM on December 26, 2004


(I put "black" in quotes above to indicate that I know it's a problematic term for some people who might, nonetheless, find that the category "black, non-Hispanic" best describes them on a US Census form.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:08 PM on December 26, 2004


The problem is this: is Kwanzaa supposed to be a St. Patrick's Day for African Americans who are the descendants of formerly enslaved people?

that's Juneteenth (sort of), celebrating a belated emancipation.
posted by amberglow at 8:24 PM on December 26, 2004


Fuck Kwanzaa. Boo-Yaa!
posted by Witty at 9:24 PM on December 26, 2004


I had forgotten the Juneteenth factor as well. So you've got Juneteenth, celebrating the end of slavery; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, celebrating the civil rights movement; and all the other holidays, competing with Kwanzaa.

And then Kwanzaa is long. And then Kwanzaa is didactic.

It's hard to imagine Kwanzaa will ever really catch on, seeing as there are more attractive one-day holidays addressing the "black" experience in the US.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:03 PM on December 26, 2004


Well, as an aside, I was raised a Jehovah's Witness (yeah - I know) and since most of my immediate family is, I wasn't brought up with a "holiday tradition."
Since leaving that church in my late teens, I have made a few half-hearted attempts at Christmas, but it doesn't fit. (Although I do enjoy a modified Thanksgiving with my friends.)

Knowing that there another(!) holiday out there, albeit just for me (in the Black American aspect of me that is) is great, but just watching y'all at this time of year makes me tired!

Like Miko said, if people wanna, then they should. I don't think that those who choose to celebrate Kwanzaa want much more than maybe a "right on." Which is not nearly as intrusive as the grief I've gotten for not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day!

Geez.
posted by black8 at 10:48 PM on December 26, 2004


I don't think this was an inane post at all, Eideteker. I wondered at first if you were making a variation of Politics without presidents: a soulful portrait of former DC mayor Marion Barry. I was really impressed by the dog in the left-hand corner of the picture back in September, where chinese_fashion compared a black man to a dog and found the black man wanting. That struck me as very hinky, you know--Marion Barry = Al Sharpton = Willie Horton and voila! someone gets away with degrading another designated black straw man. I did not know who you were and thought your Kwanzaa post might be another fig leaf for some more Willie Hortonizing...

Having extreme reservations about Maulana Karenga after hearing him speak years ago on a couple of occasions and what with having the same disdain for the rhetorical gobbledegook and artificiality Charles Mudede wrote of concerning the holiday, it's all too easy to put the knock on Kwanzaa.

However, I can recognize that the people who celebrate it are making or have made it into culture, are making or made it into something larger than its flawed creator and larger than any critic. As Cobb wrote in allaboutgeorge's link about Kwanzaa Research:

It is not my aim to be an uncritical champion of Kwanzaa. In fact I am particularly put off by its association with the person of Karenga as if its celebrants were victims of a cult of personality. I have my own interpretation of its value and applicability as both symbol and substance. Yet there is no question in my mind that it has transcended its origins. It is that transcendent quality I seek to preserve, and if I stand as something of a heretic, sobeit.

Your post was fine and the topic worth discussion.
posted by y2karl at 11:48 PM on December 26, 2004


I liked the link to Mudede's essay, y2karl.

Well, I don't, and I say so as an actual African. Contrary to Mudede's claims, I don't belong to a "tribe" (there are more people of my culture than there are Dutchmen or Scandinavians, or even African-Americans), and I have no urge whatsoever to throw away my ethnic identity in the name of casting off "tribalism" by dissolving myself in American culture, anymore than an Englishman or a Spaniard would seek to do the same. Mudede's article is thoroughly inane, and from where I stand it reeks of self-contempt. All that Rhodesian "native education" [sic] has wreaked havoc on his view of his own culture.

As far as Kwanzaa and Swahili are concerned, while I myself have no interest in the holiday, I also don't see anything particularly shameful about it's appropriation of African cultural and linguistic practices, and I see no reason why African-Americans who do celebrate the holiday should be any more embarrassed for so doing than English-speaking Americans who unironically speak of the Greco-Roman heritage as "theirs", as no people have a hereditary copyright on their culture. In any case, if Kwanzaa's appropriation of African culture seems "absurd", it is hardly any more so than the descendants of black slaves worshipping a crucified Semitic charismatic in a Germanic tongue and using the rites of an Imperial Roman state cult.
posted by Goedel at 4:20 AM on December 27, 2004


The Nationalism tips the absurdity scale in favor of Kwaanza,if you ask me. Why is no one bothered by this?
posted by Luke Pski at 4:47 AM on December 27, 2004


"The Nationalism tips the absurdity scale in favor of Kwaanza, if you ask me. Why is no one bothered by this?"

Perhaps because some understand it is a perhaps a very natural reaction to getting shit on for 400+ years?

African slaves brought over here were robbed of their culture, family and indentity. Their descendants, not having very specific tribal or cultural traditions to draw upon YET being reminded (in quite often brutal ways) of our outsider status, would cause one to take whatever they could from the the only reliable source: the Motherland Africa - all of it.
What's absurd to me is why anyone who's cracked open a history book would have a problem with what traditions Black Americans "invent" - as long as they ain't illegal.

And what Goedel said.
posted by black8 at 5:28 AM on December 27, 2004


Am I the only one who really doesn't celebrate their ancestors on the very basic principle that I don't really know them? Is anyone else practically detached from their family's reminsicent attitude at reunions and like celebrations that seem to look back to a history even they never experienced even second-hand? I enjoy the holidays fine enough, but entirely because it's a chance to visit with the family I have now, while they're all still alive, and eat food with them, and learn their recipes, and listen to the stories they tell me about their actual past.

I don't think I'm the only one that feels a bit disheartened with all the kinds of 'celebrations' that seem to grow up around things that people merely wish were happy (i.e., Thanksgiving, Columbus Day) in a kind of self-defeated way. I have so much to celebrate that's happening right now, that I feel odd even trying to enter a discussion over the whose, which, and what's of cultures, traditions, or societies from long past to be celebrating.

I don't mean this to be insulting in any way, I just want to ask, is anyone else with me here? Does anyone else see an argument going in circles because everybody who'd really have something to say on the matter is dead already?
posted by odinsdream at 8:35 AM on December 27, 2004


yeah, odin, but it's nice to think that when i sit down for Passover seder, i'm doing as my ancestors did, for thousands of years. It's a connection to them, and to the past, and about continuity.

Kwanzaa celebrates principles, and unity and community--and whether the rhetoric is because of an imagined past or a real one, it's still worthwhile in and of itself--for all of us, actually. How much of the Thanksgiving story with the Natives and Puritans is real? It doesn't take away from gathering together, etc. And it seems that most of us need occasions to get together (even if we regret it, or have to deal with psychodrama...)
posted by amberglow at 8:51 AM on December 27, 2004


I'm not espousing any anti-holiday message here, by any means. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but not at all because of the past. Likewise with the others.

Perhaps my family just doesn't have a strong ancestral background that I can look up to. I'm aware that my ancestors existed, and I'm delighted to know that they celebrated holidays too, but I just don't think they themselves are worthy of being celebrated. I wouldn't really like to have a holiday in my name, either, if that says much about my point of view on this.

Sorry, this seems to get more depressing the further I try to explain it.
posted by odinsdream at 9:12 AM on December 27, 2004


What's absurd to me is why anyone who's cracked open a history book would have a problem with what traditions Black Americans "invent" - as long as they ain't illegal.

I don't even need the history book to agree with that.
posted by thirteen at 10:07 AM on December 27, 2004


Goedel, you make a good point--and I should say that when I said "I liked the link to Mudede's essay" I meant exactly that, not that I necessarily liked Mudede's essay. I thought that it was interesting to see a different perspective, whether I agreed with it or not, and I appreciated that y2karl had found it for us.

Today's "Boondocks" weighs in on the issue.

And, you know, word on what everyone has said about all traditions being a mutually-agreed-upon fiction, etc. I do think, though, that the length and didacticism of Kwanzaa are discouraging factors--if it was one day, with less vocabulary words to memorize, it might well be more popular.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:55 AM on December 27, 2004


if it was one day, with less vocabulary words to memorize, it might well be more popular.

sidhedevil, there's usually much wisdom in what you have to say here on the blue, and even when i disagree with things you say, i almost always find myself aknowledging the solidity of the reasoning behind your statements.

which is why i find the attitude you're expressing about kwanzaa in this thread so puzzling and disappointing.

who gives a flying fuck about how popular a holdiay is? obviously, to those who choose to celebrate it, it's important, legimtimate, meaningful and valid. why do the numbers matter so much for kwanzaa in particular? does it really matter so much to non-celebrants whether 2 people or 2 billion people choose to celebrate kwanzaa? will we have a discussion over how many people celebrate gay pride day when it rolls around? i don't think so. so again, i have to ask why so many people who don't celebrate kwanzaa seem so keen on diminishing it in importance?

if i made the statement i quoted above about the particular way in which you practice christianity, how would you feel?

if i made a statement like this, how would you feel: It's hard to imagine sidhedevil's particular form of christianity will ever really catch on, seeing as there are more attractive forms of addressing the "christian" experience in the modern world.

and i don't care what boondocks has to say about kwanzaa,and i don't care how many people here know 1 black person or 15,000 black people who neither celebrate nor understand kwanzaa. black people can be just as stupid about what other black people are doing as non-blacks can.

furthermore, at this time, there is no "do you celebrate kwanzaa?" question on the Civil Exam to Practice Blackness in the United States of America; it's possible to be black in the u.s.a. without giving a good goddamn about kwanzaa, malcolm x, hip hop music, slavery, cornrows, what life is like in the "hood," or whatever else mainstream america -- and black america insofar as that entity/phenomenon exists -- thinks makes a person black.

i don't even celebrate the holdiay, nor am i fond of it, but i also don't feel compelled to point out how few people celebrate it every december. again, what gives?
posted by lord_wolf at 12:19 PM on December 27, 2004


By speculating on why Kwanzaa hadn't "caught on", though, I wasn't suggesting that anyone who got value out of the six days of meditation on principles, etc., was being silly or dull or anything at all.

I was just suggesting that if it were something that involved more bright and shiny and party and less serious thought, more Americans would be likely to find it attractive. And if it weren't sandwiched between Christmas and King Day.

I was offering those only as sociological observations, not as judgments on how Kwanzaa works. If only one person celebrated it and it was meaningful to him or her, that would be great; but we were talking, above, about reasons why it hadn't "caught on" and become more widely celebrated.

Some people were, I think, suggesting that it was because it was so recently created, but I thought there were other factors which I enumerated.

And, lord_wolf, if you said this about my way of practicing Christianity:

if it was one day, with less vocabulary words to memorize, it might well be more popular.

you would be exactly correct. Exactly correct. I think that that might be one of the reasons I identified that as an aspect of Kwanzaa that might potentially discourage people from engaging with it--my own experience of my particular spiritual path is that most people seem to find it boring because of the history/vocabulary/lengthiness aspect.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:45 PM on December 27, 2004


Also, I offered today's "Boondocks" not because I necessarily agreed with it, but because I was amused by the coincidence of it with this discussion.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:46 PM on December 27, 2004


furthermore, at this time, there is no "do you celebrate kwanzaa?" question on the Civil Exam to Practice Blackness in the United States of America

That's a shame, because it's a good question. I have to question how serious the civil services are about their Certified Black recruitment goals...
posted by Bugbread at 12:51 PM on December 27, 2004 [1 favorite]


I'm a big fan of Patriot's Day. A legal holiday in two states, and they run the Boston Marathon in one of them on that day. Kooky!
posted by fixedgear at 1:14 PM on December 27, 2004


I see no reason why African-Americans who do celebrate the holiday should be any more embarrassed for so doing than English-speaking Americans who unironically speak of the Greco-Roman heritage as "theirs".

Well, I have to quibble here. There was and is an ongoing, more or less, historical process behind worshipping a crucified Semitic charismatic in a Germanic tongue and using the rites of an Imperial Roman state cult. The Africa of Karenga's imagination has far less to do with the only reliable source: the Motherland Africa - all of it than The Wonder Years have to do with the 60s or Happy Days with the 50s. In its historical integrity, Kwanzaa resembles nothing so much as modern Paganism.

The ancients did not have churches--temples were treasuries of votive gifts and the central religious rites of the times usually involved killing, butchering a suitable grown-as-food animal and and eating it in a communal feast. A friend took me to a ''pagan'' celebration last week that did involve a communal feast--albeit a pot luck dinner--along with a brief prayer to the gods that had as much to do with the practices of ancient pagan ritual as does a driver's manual for a Ford Excursion. There was meat to be eaten but the table with the roast turkeys, hams and baked salmon involved no on premises ritual slaughter. However, we got there late, however, and nothing was left but skin and bones. The separate vegan and vegetarian tables, on the other hand, were fairly groaning with the fairly pristine results of yummy tofu related activities. But I digress. The point is there is no continuity whatsoever between ancient pagans and postmodern pagans.

A ritual created bit by bit over the long haul by succeeding generations is not the same as a ritual made up by one person overnight from whole cloth. Kwanzaa is as yet a hippy drum circle pot luck of a holiday but still, with enough cooks over time, it may become a truly traditional feast.
posted by y2karl at 2:26 PM on December 27, 2004


There was and is an ongoing, more or less, historical process behind worshipping a crucified Semitic charismatic in a Germanic tongue and using the rites of an Imperial Roman state cult.

The same is true of Kwanzaa, the only difference being the length of that historical process, and unless you buy into the fallacious argument from antiquity, I fail to see why this makes any difference whatsoever. In any case, where African-Americans are concerned, the only "historical process" involved was their ancestors being wrenched from their homelands and sold into bondage in a foreign land where they were stripped of all of their own indigenous cultures. What possible reason could there be for them to wish to prefer cultural celebrations acquired in such a manner?

A ritual created bit by bit over the long haul by succeeding generations is not the same as a ritual made up by one person overnight from whole cloth.

But even rituals created "bit by bit" have to start out as something made up "overnight from whole cloth." Besides, why does this make such rituals better? Astrology is "organic" too, but I don't see why I ought to pay it more heed than Simmelweis' germ theory. "Bit by bit" just sounds to me like "old, and having origins obfuscated by the passage of time", and even this isn't necessarily as true as one might imagine: the Christmas celebration is mostly the product of Pope Julius I, Washington Irving and Thomas Nast.

Burkean arguments for "organic" institutions have their place, but I'd argue that they ought to strictly be confined to the political sphere (and then only in support of gradualism, not resistance to all change); if people voluntarily decide to celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Saturnalia or even Festivus, it's really no one else's business as long as they aren't disturbing anyone else. No one is forcing others to celebrate Kwanzaa, and yet the very notion of the festival reliably draws quibbling or outright snickers from white people.
posted by Goedel at 4:00 PM on December 27, 2004


Kwanzaa is as yet a hippy drum circle pot luck of a holiday but still, with enough cooks over time, it may become a truly traditional feast.

You write as if this were something that could be objectively determined by some Committee on Tradition; Kwanzaa is already "truly traditional" to those who practice it.
posted by Goedel at 4:01 PM on December 27, 2004


Seems strange that we're discussing something framed as 'why it hasn't caught on' when in fact it has caught on. Here the celebration is, 38 years after its conception, and everyone here has heard of it. That's more than a flash in the pan; and only time will inform us about the holiday's lasting power.
posted by Miko at 4:37 PM on December 27, 2004


Given all that nearly everything of worth in the musical and popular culture in America originates with the descendants of those wrenched from their homelands and sold into bondage, I think it's faintly patronizing to suggest a pin the tail on the Xmas black nationalist Hanukah is somehow justified to compensate for the loss of their own indigenous cultures. It's a loss for which the whole world is richer--which was Mudede's point, after all.
posted by y2karl at 4:53 PM on December 27, 2004


To add to what Miko said, in a recent newspaper article I read, it stated that 20-30 million people do celebrate Kwanzaa. I'd imagine there are some other holidays out there for specific groups of people/religions that are far less well-known and celebrated.
posted by Orb at 6:06 PM on December 27, 2004


Miko and Orb both make good points. Obviously, there are people who do celebrate Kwanzaa, who do find it meaningful, and thus it succeeds admirably on its own terms (as lord_wolf implies quite eloquently above). This article, for example, talks about a variety of people's positive experiences of Kwanzaa.

I've never had a friend who celebrated Kwanzaa myself, so my perceptions of it may well be shaped by how the media approaches it. And the Bay State Banner, the Boston weekly that focuses on the black community, seems to have given Kwanzaa a miss entirely this year, and I don't recall extensive coverage in previous years; this might also be part of why I perceive it as less than central to many people's experience. The Washington Post article above, though, brings it more to life for me than anything I have previously read.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:10 PM on December 27, 2004


"the descendants of black slaves worshipping a crucified Semitic charismatic in a Germanic tongue and using the rites of an Imperial Roman state cult".

Purely on grounds of rhetorical flourish, I <8 Goedel.

And many holidays in the Anglo world are of recent and often quite cynical and commercial manufacture, the Santa-based Christmas being a case in point (and Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day, and Father's Day). So-called traditions can be invented very quickly to meet a perceived need - Victorian Englishmen seem to have invented Highland culture more or less out of whole (plaid) cloth. The only thing wrong with Kwanzaa that I can see is that the manufacture is right under our noses. Give it a few more decades - if it lives, nobody will care about the origin, and if it dies, well, nobody will care either. Hooray for popular sentiment!
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:40 PM on December 27, 2004


Victorian Englishmen, my ass, joe's_spleen--a lot of the "Highland tradition" as we know it today was invented by Victoria's German husband!
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:10 PM on December 27, 2004


Speaking of recently invented traditions, how many people celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day ? That seems to have caught on as well.
posted by y2karl at 9:30 PM on December 27, 2004


Well, y'know. Pirates!
posted by black8 at 1:55 AM on December 28, 2004


a pin the tail on the Xmas black nationalist Hanukah

Which is just your own personal prejudices speaking. There's nothing "nationalist" about Kwanzaa, and the only possible resemblance this explicitly non-religious festival has to "Hanukah" is that it's celebrated by a minority. Why do you have a bee under your bonnet about some black folks deciding to have a little festival of their own?
posted by Goedel at 2:55 AM on December 28, 2004


Every day is International Talk Like A Pirate Day for pirates.

For all the people accusing folks who find Kwanzaa silly of latent racism: relax. All holidays are goofy, and it's only the passage of time that lends them legitimacy. The only reason Kwanzaa is getting flack is that it's so new.
posted by Bugbread at 3:18 AM on December 28, 2004 [1 favorite]


Actually, the Kwanzaa celebration consciously borrowed the "lighting candles while reciting inspirational events from the history of one's culture" structure from Hanukkah, Goedel.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:05 AM on December 28, 2004


Kwanza's nice, but my beef is w/ Dave Chappelle... the man got a $50M contract IN AUGUST to renew his show, and have we seen anything fresh yet? No. Can he live up to his pricetag? I mean, he's funny, but sheesh!
posted by DenOfSizer at 8:09 AM on December 28, 2004


I read through all of these comments and it seems like there is an obvious point to be made. Most people, black and white, in America are christians and they celebrate Christmas. After all the big frenzy of shopping and eating and traveling, why would anyone start celebrating another major holiday? The answer is that they don't. I think people give Kwanza lip-service out of respect, but not much else.

On preview: The spell checker wants to use Kanagawa instead of Kwanza. That word is more common?
posted by monkeyman at 9:23 AM on December 28, 2004


My point in making this post is that I'm black (or Halfrican-American, technically) and I don't know what Kwanzaa really means (or I didn't before I did some research). Most people I know don't either (of all races). "What the hell is Kwanzaa?" Futurama said it all. Everyone knows of Kwanzaa, but how many know what it means?

My goal in learning about the holiday was to see what values I could pull from it, and how I could meditate on it in my every day life. So far, I've had a pretty successful time meditating on Nguzo Saba (my favorite was yesterday when I was very Self-Determined—I felt like Ice Cube, and it was a good day). I've loved hearing everyone's viewpoint (with the exception of the person who called me a rascist). And I have enjoyed watching the Kuumba of shows like ILC and Chappelle's. There is a joy in "being black", something I was (I feel) missing growing up. Am I a whitey-hatin' nationalist? Hardly. I'm an American, which means I'm constantly balancing the promise of a new world against the values of the old. My father was quite fond of referring to me by the title of a song off of Rush's "Signals" album: the New World Man. I guess that's what I am.

All in all, I would consider this a successful post. Good, but not great. And the Winner of this thread is y2karl (Though I think Turtle was the first person to "get" it). Congratulation, y2karl. A WINNER IS YOU!!
posted by Eideteker at 5:33 PM on December 28, 2004


On preview: The spell checker wants to use Kanagawa instead of Kwanza. That word is more common?

Google hits for "Kwanzaa":
1,440,000

Google hits for "Kanagawa":
2,240,000

So, yep.

(Kanagawa, by the way, is the prefecture to the West of Tokyo, and contains both Yokohama and Kawasaki, as well as a buttload of second offices of companies which have their main offices in Tokyo, hence the frequency of the word)
posted by Bugbread at 4:16 AM on December 30, 2004 [1 favorite]


Why do you have a bee under your bonnet about some black folks deciding to have a little festival of their own?

I don't. If you read my comments a little more closely, you might see I think the celebration as a cultural event has its merits while I am ambivalent on the details of its inception.

At MetaFilter every day is Making Yourself Right By Making Someone Else Wrong Day.
posted by y2karl at 10:03 AM on December 30, 2004


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