Kwanzaa just ended New Year's Day, but if you were looking forward to this year's celebration, at least one white Wisconsin senator wants the African American cultural celebration to be done away with.
In a statement that's infuriated many, Sen. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin said he sees no point in celebrating Kwanzaa, opining that, "Almost no black people today care about Kwanzaa — just white left-wingers who try to shove this down black people’s throats in an effort to divide Americans.”
The Republican state senator called for Kwanzaa to be "slapped down" as a holiday and also criticized Maulana Karenga, the California State University professor who created the holiday, calling the scholar a “violent nut.”
Meg Moen, Democratic Party leader of Ozaukee County in Wisconsin called Grothman's statements Monday “jaw dropping. Not only does Senator Grothman seem to find his inherit racism acceptable, he implores people to follow his lead.” (Mediaite)
Happy Kwanzaa! Or as it’s said in Swahili, “Here za, Kwanzaa!”
It might surprise many people in the post-Civil Rights Movement era to know that Kwanzaa, an African American holiday tradition created more than four decades ago, is celebrated, according to its creator, Dr. Maulana Karenga, by more than 28 million people around the world.
But the anecdotal estimate has been enough for President Barack Obama, who has annually released a statement marking the start of the seven-day observance, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.
“Michelle and I extend our warm thoughts and best wishes to all those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season,” the nation’s first African American president said in this year’s statement.
“It reminds us that though there is much to be thankful for we must recommit ourselves to building a country where all Americans have the opportunity to achieve their dreams,” the statement continues.
Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies at the California State University-Long Beach, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this article, has said that Kwanzaa in 2012 is about reaffirming black identity and the community’s connection to pan-African culture.
“Kwanzaa is also a time of self-conscious recommitment to honor the awesome ancestral legacy left us by preserving and expanding it; to uphold the time resistant moral and cultural values that ground and guide us in our daily lives,” Karenga said in a Kwanzaa statement published in the "Los Angeles Sentinel" earlier this month.
Some within the African American community, who are lukewarm on Kwanzaa and admit to having only celebrated a few times when they were younger, believe the holiday has good intentions but is overshadowed by the other major Christian and Jewish holidays celebrated this time of year.
“I think it’s great, especially at the time [Kwanzaa] was created, that African Americans have a cultural balance,” said Damond Haynes, an instructor in the Junior Scholars program at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.
Haynes does not celebrate Kwanzaa but says he would teach his two young daughters about it, on the chance they might want to pass the tradition along to their children.
“All of the other traditions during the holiday season have a very Euro-centric,” Haynes added. “Even if it’s once a year, it’s nice to have a connection to Africa and celebrate our roots.”
Kwanzaa, which in Swahili means “first fruits,” was created in 1966 and is said to come out of the Black Freedom Movement, aimed in part at maintaining the African American community’s connection to their African roots. Each day of the Kwanzaa week represents a principle: “Umoja,” or unity; “Kujichagulia,” or self-determination; “Ujima,” or collective work and responsibility; “Ujamaa,” or cooperative economics; “Nia,” or purpose; “Kuumba,” or creativity; and “Imani,” or faith. Customs within the Kwanzaa tradition include the lighting of a Kinara, which holds seven candles that represent each of the principles.
Most celebrations take place throughout the week, usually culminating with events that showcase several aspects of African American culture and its ties to Africa.
Here are a few events taking place in black communities around the country:
Dec. 29, 2012 -- 2nd Annual Kwanza Market with “Sankofa” Screening & Discussion, “Omiiroo,” 400 14th Street, Oakland, CA 94612. Film: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m, Market: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Dec. 31, 2012 – 46th Annual Kwanzaa Karamu “An Evening In Africa,” Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Program: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets: 323-299-6124.
Dec. 28, 2012 – 2012 Kwanzaa Celebration, William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Event: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Dec. 29 – 30, 2012 – Kwanzaa Celebration, African American Museum, 701 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Program: Saturday, 11 a.m, to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Jan. 1, 2013 – “Imani Celebration,” Ballethnic Dance Company, 2587 Cheney Street, East Point, GA 30344. Program: 3 p.m. Tickets: 404-762-1416.
Dec. 29, 2012 – Kwanzaa 2012, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024. Program: 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Kwanzaa celebrations have been observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year since 1966. Despite the holiday’s decades of existence, misperceptions about Kwanzaa abound. Is the holiday religious or secular? Is it for blacks only? Is it just celebrated in the United States? These are some of the most common questions about the holiday. With the list below, clarify your understanding of Kwanzaa. The holiday is based on the first fruits celebrations of Africa, and seven tenets: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith).
Kwanzaa Is Not a Christmas Substitute: Although some Christian pastors have raised concerns about Kwanzaa because they believe the holiday detracts from the birth of Christ, Kwanzaa does not aim to compete with Christmas or any other religious observance, according to the official Kwanzaa website. “Africans of all faiths can and do celebrate Kwanzaa…, for what Kwanzaa offers is not an alternative to their religion or faith but a common ground of African culture which they all share and cherish.”
Most Blacks Don’t Celebrate Kwanzaa: Although Kwanzaa has a reputation for being a black holiday, the fact is, most African Americans don’t observe the celebration. Keith Mayes, author of Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition, estimates that no more than 2 million African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa. The National Retail Foundation has reported that 4.7 million, or roughly 13 percent of African Americans, observe the holiday.
People of All Racial Backgrounds Can Celebrate Kwanzaa: Kwanzaa is an Afrocentric holiday, but it is not exclusively reserved for African Americans. Just as people from a variety of ethnic groups participate in St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo celebrations or Native American powwows, people from a range of cultures can participate in Kwanzaa.
Some Africans Observe Kwanzaa: Kwanzaa may have launched in the United States, but today people from all over the world celebrate it, including Africans. About 40 million people worldwide reportedly celebrate Kwanzaa. The celebration has grown in popularity among Africans because, “it speaks to our need and appreciation for its cultural vision and life- affirming values, values which celebrate and reinforce family, community, and culture,” according to the official Kwanzaa website.
Kwanzaa’s Commercialization: The black nationalist movement may have given Kwanzaa its start, but the holiday is now mainstream. The U.S. Postal Service issued the first Kwanzaa stamp in 1997. Kwanzaa holiday cards are available from major retailers such as Hallmark, and companies such as McDonald’s have embraced the holiday. Critics of Kwanzaa’s commercialization say that exchanging homemade gifts during the celebration can counter corporate appropriation.
Michelle and I extend our warm thoughts and best wishes to all those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season. Today marks the first day of the week-long celebration of African-American history and culture through the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
To many, Kwanzaa serves as a time of reflection--taking lessons learned from our past and looking forward to a more promising tomorrow. It reminds us that though there is much to be thankful for we must recommit ourselves to building a country where all Americans have the opportunity to achieve their dreams.
As families across America light the Kinara today in the spirit of unity, our family extends our prayers and well wishes during this season.
While it’s unclear whether the Obamas will themselves light a kinara this Kwanzaa, the black holiday tradition sprouted up in America in 1966. It includes observance of several principles that promote and preserve Black Americans’ roots in African culture. This year, Kwanzaa celebrations end on Jan. 1.