Skip to comments.Black Christmas Under Threat From The Dollar
Posted on 12/23/2003 4:49:33 PM PST by blam
Black Christmas under threat from the dollar
By David Rennie in Washington
By any measure, Dr Maulana Karenga has pulled off a remarkable feat. In 1966, he invented a seven-day festival of African unity.
Like a latter-day Malcolm X let loose in Santa's workshop, he blended African harvest festivals with ancient Egyptian traditions and Black Power theology, then bound the lot together with a smattering of Swahili rituals.
It is a wholly invented tradition - yet today, an estimated 18 million people celebrate Kwanzaa. There are Kwanzaa postage stamps. This week, President George W Bush will issue a formal Kwanzaa message to the nation.
Corporate America has caught on. For the duration of the holiday, from Dec 26 until Jan 1, stores will put on Kwanzaa displays, featuring African clothes, perhaps, and a kinara - the seven-branched candlestick at the centre of the festival.
You can buy your kinara from Avon, the catalogue giant. Hallmark sells Kwanzaa cards and wrapping paper, there are Kwanzaa cookbooks, and - from Paramount pictures - a "Rugrats" Kwanzaa cartoon.
Yet Dr Karenga - a former firebrand of the Black Power movement, now chairman of black studies at California State University - is far from happy.
Dr Karenga has denounced what he dubs "the corporate world's move to penetrate and dominate the Kwanzaa market".
Not only are big corporations trying to push small black businesses aside, they are trying to subvert his invention from the inside, he complains.
"Manipulating the language and symbols of Kwanzaa, they will seek not only to sell corporation-generated Kwanzaa items, but also to introduce a full range of corporate products as necessary for the practice of Kwanzaa," he said recently in a statement issued by the official Kwanzaa website.
Black people must build a "wall of resistance", and "refuse to co-operate with the corporate drive to dominate and redefine it and make it simply another holiday to maximise sales", Dr Karenga said.
Opalanga, the "project weaver", or organiser, of one of the largest Kwanzaa celebrations, in Denver, said Kwanzaa was a victim of its own success. Opalanga, who does not use a second name, is "disturbed" by mass-produced Kwanzaa items. "We have to step up production of our own artefacts, if we are not to be smashed by Avon, or Hallmark."
Kwanzaa is not intended as a religious alternative to Christmas, though some black Christians shun it as a "heathen" celebration. To Dr Karenga, the problem is the secular traditions surrounding Christmas, which he finds overwhelmingly "European", from Father Christmas to mistletoe.
Prof Venetria Patton, director of African American Studies at Purdue University in Indiana, agrees. She grew up in an America where the children on Christmas cards were all white. To this day, if she takes her children to a Santa's grotto, they invariably end up sitting on a white man's knee.
Prof Patton and her family celebrate all seven days of Kwanzaa, lighting the "Mishumaa Saba", or ritual candles, offering libations to their ancestors, and exchanging "Ziwadi", or educational gifts, usually books.
The rituals are invented, and Swahili may well not have been the mother tongue of her ancestors, Prof Patton conceded.
Like almost all black Americans, she has no idea where her ancestors came from. Slave traders did not keep genealogical records, and often jumbled different ethnic groups together, so they could not plot revolts, she noted gently.
Prof Patton is not alarmed by the corporate world's new interest in Kwanzaa.
"It increases awareness of the holiday. It's like any other convenience. If you use an Avon Kinara but keep focused on some of the fundamental principles of Kwanzaa, I don't see a problem," she said.
Prof Patton will be giving her three children books wrapped in Kwanzaa paper she bought at Wal-Mart, she admitted. "It's convenient. And I would rather someone was able to have Kwanzaa wrapping paper from Wal-Mart, than have to use paper covered in little white Santas."
Kwanzaa paper? The US seems like an alien country to me sometimes. It's been thirteen years since I've lived there but sometimes it seems like it has changed so much I wouldn't even recognize it any more if I were to come back. Kwanzaa paper. Wonders never cease...
No, corporate America was browbeaten and threatened with frivolous lawsuits if they did not submit to this fake Holiday made up by a black rascist. The biggest gains were made in the 90's when they had an administration that was behind the movement.
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