Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kwanzaa: Myth vs. Reality

Although it's only October, I thought that now was as good a time as any to dispel some myths about one of America's most misunderstood holidays. I'd like to start by giving a brief overview of Kwanzaa and it's origins. Next, I'll clear up some common misconceptions, and I'll end with my personal thoughts on the issue. If you feel that I have made any false statements, feel free to let me know.

What is Kwanzaa?: Kwanzaa is a non-religious holiday that was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of black studies at California State University, Long Beach. In creating Kwanzaa, Dr. Karenga intended to give African Americans a chance to celebrate themselves and their history. Also, Kwanzaa was intended to promote values such as unity and self-determination in the black community. Kwanzaa has no basis in any single African country or tradition, but rather is a celebration of Africa as a whole, drawing infuences from various harvest festivals throughout the continent. Kwanzaa is an annual celebration that occurrs between December 26 and Janauary 1. For each day of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit, libations are poured, one of the seven principles is refelcted on and small homemade gifts are exchanged. While Kwanzaa was originally created for African Americans, it does not specifically exclude anyone.

Common Misconceptions:
Kwanzaa is an African Holiday: Although Kwanzaa is based on certain African traditions, the actual holiday was created by a dude in California.

If you celebrate Kwanzaa, you don't celebrate Christmas: Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. This means that you can celebrate Kwanzaa regardless of your religion.

You have to be black to celebrate Kwanzaa: I don't think Kwanzaa has any restrictions on who can celebrate it. If you want to bust out your Kinara and light some candles, I don't think the Kwanzaa police will bust into your house and arrest you for not being black. Anyway, black people have fought racism for too long to become racists, themselves (that's what I'd like to believe).

If I give my black friend a Kwanzaa card, he'll appreciate it: I know it may seem politically correct, but I honesty don't know anyone who actually celebrates Kwanzaa. Unless your friend is really into that stuff, he's probably just as confused about it as you are.

My thoughts about Kwanzaa: Personally, I'm not a big fan of Kwanzaa. Although it was created with good intentions, I feel that, similar to Chappelle's Show, Fubu, The Boondocks, and that stupid "Read A Book" song, Kwanzaa ultimately creates more stereotypes and misconceptions than it dispels. While these types of things might be helpful for their target audience, the general public often gets a skewed view of them that lacks the same background and history. This causes confusion and false assumptions. Furthermore, I feel that it is inappropriate to link my identity as an African American to some sort of Pan-African ideal. While I do recognize and take pride in certain physical and genetic connections to people from the African continent, I cannot specifically trace my heritage to any one particular African country, and thus I see myself as more of an American than an African. Also, as a black person, a man, an American, a college student and many other things, I feel that I would rather live my life as a complex human being than waste it embracing a set of contrived and fraudulent traditions.

I hope that helped clear things up about Kwanzaa

p.s. I don't intend to offend anybody who celebrates Kwanzaa. If that's what you like to do, that's perfectly cool with me.

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