[Guest post by DRJ]
The 7 days of Kwanzaa began last Friday and end this Thursday, January 1. Americans are celebrating Kwanzaa with events like storytelling in Austin and Denver, a concert in New Orleans, African dancing and music in Seattle, and a range of activities in Detroit. For something slightly different, Miami’s Kwanzaa activities include a “Kwanzaa Prince and Princess Pageant followed by Ashella, an African version of Cinderella.”
This New York Times’ article has a round-up of Kwanzaa events in the New York City area and revisits a “spirited” debate from 5 years ago regarding the merits of Kwanzaa:
“Five years ago, in an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times titled “A Case of the Kwanzaa Blues,” the author and lawyer Debra J. Dickerson raised a stir by questioning the purpose of Kwanzaa.
“With all due respect to those who celebrate it, Kwanzaa feels like a cop-out,” she wrote. “Just as drugs are for those who can’t handle reality, isn’t Kwanzaa for those who can’t handle knowing that our ancestors fueled themselves with Western ideals, Christianity uppermost among them?”
Citing the Afrocentric intentions of Kwanzaa’s founder, the black-studies professor and political activist Maulana (Ron) Karenga, Ms. Dickerson asserted that “Kwanzaa feels as if it is more about thumbing black noses at white America than at embracing the lost cause of resuming our Africanness.”
Ms. Dickerson’s essay prompted a spirited response. In a letter to The Times, Regina Austin retorted that there was “nothing anti-American about Kwanzaa” and added: “African-Americans, whether born here in America, in Africa or elsewhere, have the right to claim Africa as our ancestral home.”
We probably won’t settle that debate here so I’ll let this California Kwanzaa supporter have the last, somewhat confused, word:
“I’ve been celebrating Kwanzaa for many, many years,” said Ms. Bolden-Monifa, who lives in Oakland, Calif., and has written essays about the holiday. “It’s nice to have that connection. You acknowledge that you are an American of African descent, with some connection to the motherland, even if you don’t know where that is.
Her wife, Ruthie Bolden-Monifa, 47, is both African-American and Jewish. The couple, along with their daughter, Ashley, 7, and son Benjamin, 5, celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.
“In many ways, we’re more into Hanukkah and Kwanzaa for the cultural richness than Christmas, which, despite its Christian roots, has become about getting presents,” Ms. Bolden-Monifa said.”
A final note: In writing this post, I couldn’t find as many 2008 Kwanzaa stories as I could for prior years or that I recall reading in the past. My admittedly subjective impression is that there may be fewer Kwanzaa celebrations and/or celebrants. If so, I wonder if it has anything to do with Barack Obama’s popularity among blacks and the fact he openly embraces Christianity.