Tonight begins the seven-day celebration of the African American and Pan-African holiday known as Kwanzaa. According to its founder Maulana Karenga, this celebration of community and culture was created to reaffirm and restore African Americans “rootedness in African culture” and the “bonds between us as a people.” Each night African Americans are to celebrate one of the seven principles and values inherited from the African communitarian philosophy of Kawaida.
In hopes of neither offending Kwanzaa celebrants nor my phenotype, I must confess that I have always been indifferent about this holiday at best and quietly critical of its racially romantic underpinnings at worst. Of course I appreciate and extol the virtues of self-determination, collective responsibility and faith. Such values, however, have never been in the sole possession of a particular ethnic group, let alone dependent upon a socially constructed category of race. And, from a cultural perspective, my grandparents weren’t sitting around in Raleigh, North Carolina quoting Swahili. But they did teach us Kujichagulia (self-determination) in the form of “God helps those who help themselves” and Nia (purpose) by their constant admonitions of “Boy, you better get somewhere and do something!”
So don’t hate me. I am simply being honest. I just prefer sharing with my kids stories about their grandfather butchering The Temptations’ version of Silent Night as opposed to dressing them in kente cloth. Not that I am mad at anybody who does. But I have been black and proud long enough to know that Zora Neale Hurston was right, “All your skin folks ain’t your kin folks. And all your color ain’t your kind!”