I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.
Monday, December 27, 2004
Hatin' on Kwanzaa
Having genuinely celebrated Kwanzaa this year, I have come to this conclusion: Boondocks is right, it IS the B.E.T. of holidays. Inauthentic bombastic tripe.
I will not be doing it again, unless tongue planted firmly in cheek with a bunch of post-modern ironists. Essentially the same people who came to our "Planet of the Apes" marathon a few years back.
And it’s worth noting that I am the target audience for this thing -- over-compensating high-yella thirty-something who actually grew up celebrating Kwanzaa, once had a cat named Kujichagulia, read Angela Davis in college, and not generally the type to announce in a roomful of earnest seekers that the emperor has no clothes.
Here is what we did to celebrate. I had over a Jewish intellectual friend and his girl, who is between the ages of my two dinos. So already I’ve set this up where this is a field trip and I am the exhibit. But the girl is from Europe and at the age where everything is like that to her anyway, so if it weren't questions about Kwanzaa it would be questions about why we have a tree and eat ham sandwiches.
In preparation, I downloaded coloring sheets on each of the seven principles and assigned them to each of the three. There were also cut and paste color-by-number kinaras and the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” done in red, green, and black. I could not justify to myself actually purchasing a kinara, even if I knew where to find one. Plus the kids are not good fire-handling ages, so we nixed the candles and instead made a huge kinara out of construction paper and had the kids affix the “flames” with tape.
Then I handed out chocolate “bells” and had them “ring” the bells at strategic points in my Julius Lester/ John Pinkney retelling of the John Henry story. “I’ve got a rainbow ring ring/ wrapped around my shoulder ring ring.” This? I could actually see doing in a classroom or something, although it was lost on my guys, who were mostly concerned that the chocolate was melting.
I own African garb. So do the children, but I deliberately didn’t put it on because one of the things I hate about Kwanzaa’s genesis is that we act like it’s an African holiday and it just so isn’t. Likewise we didn’t pour any libations to the ancestors, because y’knowwhat? I just wasn’t feelin’ the animism. I meant to put “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” on but couldn’t readily locate my copy, so directv’s R&B selections stood in their stead. As kids, we made dashikis out of upholstery fabric and marched down to the soundtrack from “Roots.”
Side note. In middle school I did a report on Nigeria and wrote that Kwanzaa was its national holiday. No one in my school called me out. That’s how I learned not to trust authority.
Then the children read out the different principles and we tried to explain what they meant. This is the fundamental flaw at the core of Kwanzaa. The only people who take it seriously are school children and school children are not so very concerned about the great Marxist principles of economic cooperation (It’s good to share) and self-determination (Don’t let others tell you what to do.)
But the final nail in the coffin for me was the ultimate principle – faith – which is here expanded to include faith in our leaders as well as in the deliverance of the higher power. And the critic in me could not help but feel that I was getting sold a bill of Soviet-style propaganda designed to make me a good Ebony-reading Urban Leaguer sitting at the MLK prayer breakfast with keynote speech by obligatory SNCC warhorse on the subject of children – that they are our future and/or that they can fly.
So I’m hatin’ on Kwanzaa. I hate that it and Chanukah have been exaggerated by their mere proximity to Christmas to a sort of holy multicultural trinity. When, if I understand correctly, the spiritual significance of Chanukah in the Jewish calendar is more analogous to the Feast of Stephen on the Christian.
I hate that we completely overlook say, for instance, Ramadan; which actually is a really really big deal to ACTUAL third worlders. Lots of them.
I hate that the actual genuine feelings of solidarity one might feel as a Black American toward another Black American or African or enslaved or persecuted or misfortunate person is obscured or coopted by outdated jargon and cheap pageantry.
I hate that we who should know better reduce Africa to its ancient aesthetics and mysticism. That an Irish-American is likely to have strong opinion about the IRA but we can’t find Sudan on a map. Finally, I hate that it is another shibboleth that Black Americans employ, like star-bellied sneeches, to define them/ourselves in opposition to White Americans.