I Hate Kwanza
James Earl Brassfield
The Yuletide Season is generally a time of good will, warm tree smells, and misunderstandings. Kwanzaa, a holiday born out of the Black Power movement during its short life, has become associated with black coworkers everywhere. Kwanzaa was invented to empower, embolden, and teach the seven principles of African Heritage to the youth.
The intention was to teach Black Pride and independence during a time when the statues that are being torn down now were first erected. Over time, Kwanzaa became a tool of relatability for well-meaning white friends and coworkers instead of being an educational event.
Too much eggnog, coupled with a desire to appear as an ally in Trump’s America, is a recipe for awkwardness. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “Happy Kwanzaa,” I’d need to hide it offshore. I don’t even celebrate Kwanzaa; I come from money! If you offer a “Happy Kwanzaa” as we walk to our cars for winter break, I die inside. “Happy Kwanzaa, black person I know! Don’t forget we’re different! Also, I know nothing about you culturally!” That’s kind of what we hear.
This all-too-common holiday sign-off communicates a lacking knowledge of Black America. On average, about 85 percent of black Americans identify as some type of Christian. Did you know that Kwanzaa isn’t even rooted in any religion? Kwanzaa is just a celebration of principles. It’s original intent was to have black people feel like there’s a holiday for us as well.
White Jesus, white Santa, Dick Clark, and Charlie Brown: as an American I love those things. Those names are the holidays for me. As a black man, I know they’re not designed for me. If you give me a “Happy Kwanzaa” shout out, it’s like you’re trying to take white Santa away from me. I too learned everything I know about Kwanzaa from writing this piece. Before you blurt out “Happy Kwanzaa,” learn a little more about the person you’re planning to say it to. Unless they have on a Dashiki or have a really swaggy Menorah, you’re risking being problematic. Don’t forget, Santa is watching.
I Love Kwanza
I have no shame in wishing my fellow humans a “Happy Kwanzaa,” whether they like it or not. I am of the group commonly referred to as “white people,” so it’s easy to concede that “Merry Christmas” is a universal sentiment intended to inspire good tidings and joy. However, it’s not the only one, and we all know Christmas is a holiday seeded in snowy white lies and fueled by corporate and consumer greed.
That’s not to say you haven’t felt the requisite warm feelings of happiness during all 12 days of Christmas year after year. In reality, you’ve unwittingly indoctrinated yourself into the cult of Santa, and once you drink the nog it’s all over. I sound like a Christmas hater, but know that I still love Christmas as I too have drank the nog.
Kwanzaa, on the other hand, is nowhere near as egregious and imposing a holiday. Sure, it was created back in the 1960s by Maulana Karenga out of a desire to celebrate African Heritage. Some disparage the holiday because of how “new” it is, its lack of any religious foundation, and because Kwanzaa starts on Dec. 26, part of a presumed competition with Jesus’ date of birth. But while Christmas often has people craving gifts more than gospel, at least Kwanzaa has the ornamental balls to stand for something. Unity, self discovery, hard work, and creativity are just a few of the holiday’s driving principles.
Before you go looking for a Dashiki in my closet, I have never celebrated Kwanzaa—yet. I realize it was not designed for a 33-year-old Caucasian, Catholic-raised, agnostic hippie contrarian. I learned everything I know about it while writing this article. However, with an open mind and in an effort to spiritually unify with all walks of life, I’ll gladly relieve some of my innate white guilt and champion for my “new” favorite alternative holiday this December. While some are mesmerized by another White Christmas, I’ll be enjoying a Black Kwanzaa, and no matter what holiday floats your festive boat this season—have a happy one!