Growing up, I was always told – largely by my well-intentioned grade school teachers – that the holiday season embodies three holidays: the Christian holiday of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ; the Jewish holiday of Hanukah, celebrating the victorious revolt of the Maccabees and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; and the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, celebrating something about African culture. I was never sure though, as we weren’t taught the origins of Kwanzaa.
As historical records go, the first official Christmas celebration was in 336 AD, under the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome. Though never officially enshrined in history books, you can imagine the ancient Romans sauntering through the market in December, the first victims of endless, inescapable Christmas music. Hanukah, likewise, traces its roots back thousands of years, predating Christmas. Kwanzaa’s roots, on the other hand, trace as far back as to when the Beatles were still touring the United States.
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. Born Ronald McKinley Everett, Karenga later abandoned the name given to him by his Baptist Christian family, attributing it to the "white, slave culture" of America which he detested. Karenga’s chosen title "Maulana" translates to "master teacher" in Swahili; Karenga means "keeper of tradition."
Karenga co-founded the black nationalist organization: United Slaves – abbreviated to US, to mean "Us (blacks) against them (white people)" – as a rival to the Black Panther Party, in California.
Through the 1960s, the FBI led a concerted effort to fragment and disorganize the country’s radical, Marxist political movement by throwing their support behind the wildest, most extreme groups they could find. Karenga’s United Slaves checked all their boxes. The FBI exploited the existing feud between the US and the Black Panthers, sending a fake letter to Karenga’s organization, alleging a plot from the Black Panthers to murder Karenga.
As the rancor between the two belligerents intensified, shootings and violence ensued. In 1969, members of Karenga’s United Slaves gunned down two Black Panther members at UCLA over control of the school’s black studies program.
Afflicted with paranoia, Karenga believed at least two of his followers, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis, were trying to poison him with "magic crystals." Consequently, he tortured them. In 1971, Karenga was convicted of brutally beating and sexually assaulting two of his female followers.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Karenga’s heinous conviction. Jones testified that she and Davis were ordered to strip naked after being whipped with an electrical cord and beaten to a pulp with a baton. A scorching hot soldering iron was placed in Davis’ mouth and on her face; one of her toes was crushed in a python-tight vice; they were forcefully made to drink soap and laundry detergent. Karenga and his goons even shoved a running hose down their throats.
Karenga invented Kwanzaa as a secular, cultural celebration. Not a religious one. Kwanzaa was intended to serve as an alternative banner for black Americans to unite under. Along with his Christian name, Karenga abhorred and rejected Christmas, and the Christian religion more broadly. Karenga called it a "white religion" which black people should eschew in favor of his own formation.
As the holiday itself goes, Kwanzaa blends elements of Hanukah with a sprinkle and dash of Marxism. It celebrates the Seven Principles – more on those in a moment – and for each principle dedicates a day of festivities. Kwanzaa lasts for seven days. On each day, you light a candle on the Kinara. As the story goes, Karenga was unable to find a candleholder for exactly seven candles – one per principle. And so instead, Karenga took a Hanukkiah (a Menorah with 9 candle holes) and broke off two. Creating the Kwanzaa menorah; the Kinara.
Now, the Seven Principles: Unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith in ourselves. As Karenga himself explained, Kwanzaa largely revolves around collectivism. In fact, its Seven Principles were so close to Marxist ethos, they were adopted in 1973 by the California communist organization: the Symbionese Liberation Army. The rabble of revolutionary terrorists robbed banks and murdered two Americans in the annals of the 1970s.
As far as Kwanzaa’s legitimacy as a holiday is concerned, nobody has the final say in what constitutes a "real" holiday. Hanukah and Christmas are technically "made up" holidays themselves. But what sets them apart from Kwanzaa is that they’re built on foundations far more robust than Kwanzaa’s livid anti-Americanism and rejection of "whiteness." The entire raison d'être of Kwanza is: "Christianity is an invention of monstrous, malevolent white people. Celebrate this instead!"
Picture David Duke – or some other white supremacist leader – with the addendum of a conviction for mercilessly torturing two women to their rap sheet. Now imagine they invent a holiday celebrating the fruits of white American culture. What’s the likelihood of anyone taking them seriously, let alone American presidents (Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump) issuing official statements wishing "happy white culture day!"
According to 2018 a Pew Research poll, eight in ten black Americans identify as Christian. And the other two, just like the other eight are all American. They already have a wintertime holiday that celebrates their culture, unites their families around a dinner table, and most salient, preaches inclusion, not segregation. Merry Christmas!
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