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The Kwanzaa Reference
In case you have forgotten.
This August, as Free Black Thought starts rolling out its podcasts, some fraction of the world will get a taste of where I’m coming from. One aspect of that history is my participation in the Black Consciousness Movement as a child and my father’s work in the creation of the Institute for Black Studies in Los Angeles. I’ll list a number of things that have been lost to the memory hole of our postmodern eclipse.
This is going to be somewhat massive so I’ll just let you read the poem and see if you’d like to go further.
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Twas the night before Kwanzaa and all through the Sphere All the wingnuts were praying it would disappear For their very own president said to the nation That he too respected this new celebration. Compassionate's one thing but this went too far They thought to themselves while out scrounging for tar They loathed the idea of black African drumming Somehow they must try to stop Kwanzaa from coming So they dug up their references and scribbled up notes And tried to keep all of that bile in their throats But they couldn't. It spilled out on all of their pages In their poison pen poems and raggedy rages On Mulshin, on Malkin, on Coulter on Shaidle On Barber, on Frontpage and on Redstate unbridled The vomitous spew flowed without restraint Telling all who would listen just what Kwanzaa ain't Ain't Christian, legitimate, reverent or true And you know that it surely ain't red white and blue Just a sham holiday that some Negroes enjoy (Hey can we say Negroes? OK, just not 'boy') But their secret weapon was no watermelon But the hideous fact of Karenga, the felon. Karenga? Who's that? Some would bother to ask Why the black racist commie who started this task They replied with abandon, back in 66 This FBI stoolie, he tortured some chicks And shot up some Panthers, though that can't be proven This is the moonbat who got Kwanzaa movin' The Nguzo Saba and all Kwanzaa people Were crammed in one grinchbag and hung from the steeple No patriot ever loved Kwanzaa they said And marched away confident Kwanzaa was dead The bloggers they blogged and the writers they wrote And so it just happened that some did take note That something was fishy in this Kwanzaa smear For there was one argument no one could hear It seemed that the haters in their rush to judge Indulged in an argument, well more like a fudge Of making Karenga the butt of all jokes While completely ignoring the millions of folks Who love Kwanzaa and celebrate year after year Without bile or hatred, racism or fear Who quietly with loved ones light candles at night Who pour the libation, who live clean and right. And like JFK who was labeled a papist, The wingnuts said Kwanzaans were just like a rapist The sins of Karenga they laid on masses And view them askance through their dung colored classes And these seven principles, where is the crime? Americans take pride in these things all the time. Kujichagulia might be hard to say But Self-Determination's the American way It doesn't much matter when bigotry's spoken That some part of our plurality's broken I wish I could say that these wingnuts were joking It's just too unclear what it is they are smoking Some say wingnuts fear Christ is under attack Some say they fear anything that is black Some say they fear the same virtue they lack Some say that the wingnuts are strung out on crack No matter the angle, no matter the reason It's clear that these fears have all poisoned the season For just when we claim our good will towards men The haters start off with their rants once again And so desecrate what they claim to hold holy Perhaps when they see this more clearly then slowly The truth of their neighbors devotions will show Additional light added to Christmas' glow And in that new light, new faith will arise Without conflict or malice, without compromise More true than the legend of Santa and elves. We'll all love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Kwanzaa? Everybody knows about Kwanzaa, right? Well, I’ll tell you that lots of people forget about a lot of things and I was a first person witness to its inception. If children can understand the meaning of Christmas or of Christianity itself, then I’m confident that my understand of Kwanzaa is fairly complete. The point though is that I’ve had to defend it from slander over the years and in that defense a great deal is revealed. One of the points of my publication here at Substack is that I expect some measure of permanence that its establishment will make.
It may be too late for my father to make insightful comments today about his contributions of yesteryear, and so we will all suffer a lack of the immediacy of video biography. His words will have to stand in for the man. It suffuses me with a sadness which keeps me wiping my eyes with my grubby palms.
So to posterity I have edited some information I will hope that my readers will take and preserve. The first is this compilation of my writing and interacting with commenters on the controversies over Kwanzaa between 2002 and 2006. It’s a simple PDF with the 34 blog entries I collected over that period. I wrote them as Cobb during the time I was engaged in cultural production and political activism. That aspect is clear. If there were some way to embed it here that were superior to a link then I’d do so, but here’s the link. It should be good for many years. You can click on the picture or the naked link.
I've made peace with the fact that Ujamaa simply doesn't scale. The cooperative economics of the small shopping village, say Leimert Park, is not ever going to work as a strategy for African Americans. As a tactic, maybe. So while I accept it as a value in the Nguzo Saba, I'd have to say that it is not a transcendent value. Aside from that, anyone who has studied Liemert Park knows that cooperative economics didn't work there either. If it did, the large theatre there would be bustling with the entertainment progeny of Marla Gibbs, The Comedy Act Theatre, birthplace of Chris Rock would be rockin' instead of quiet and The World Stage wouldn't have gotten in trouble.
There are successful businesses in Leimert Park and in Fort Greene and in various lovely black cultural & shopping districts. But I daresay cooperative economics is not a part of the business plans they are talking with their bankers.
On the whole, I believe that the appeal of Ujamaa has much to do with nostalgia for the leadership and control black elites had over the average black in the days before racial integration. When the ladies of the Links had more scholarship money for young black highschoolers than General Electric, when your neighborhood black doctor who studied at Meharry made housecalls, when you didn't worry about redlining because Golden State Mutual Life Insurance took care of that for you. Those were the good old days.
But black banks can't compete. I can remember when it was a 'black thang' to not use ATMs because black banks like Founders Savings Bank couldn't afford to join the network. And so people stood patiently in line, for a while. Now the building that was new in the 70s on the corner of Marlton & King Boulevard is now dusty, empty and for lease. Blackfolks wanted low prices more than they wanted black owned banking. Spin that four different ways iteratively substituting 'needed' for 'wanted' in the previous sentence for subtlety's sake. Pick whichever you like, but in the end, the market wins.
In the 'black mecca' of Atlanta, there are black radio stations that advertise as ebonically as they please that black car dealers are having Juneteenth sales on late model automobiles. ("Don't play like you didn't hear it") Of course you're not going to get any guarantee that Toyota was made with black hands, the paper won't be carried by a black finance company and insurance we've already covered. But you will get black customer service and marketing, and that's all good. It crystalized the idea in my head that there are limits to the amount of recourse one needs in a consumer economy. I continue to remind those who tilt at boycott's windmills that black people, by all rights, have no reason whatsoever to wear cotton. What has the cotton industry in America ever done for blackfolks but work us into early graves? Yet nobody seems to mind at all. I'm sure there are some Jews who will never, ever buy a German auto, but I don't think anyone cares about that either.
And then there’s this in which I deal with a Christian who called himself Mr. Minority:
Mr Minority said... On the off chance that Mr. Minority is not beyond redemption... Cobb, There is no issue with my redemption, that has already taken place, with Jesus.
I have several points in which I would like to make:
1) I wrote my posting so as to inform people about Kwanzaa and it's background. Who the founder was and why he created it.
2) No matter how you feel, Kwanzaa is a 'holiday' meant to separate Black Americans and White Americans, and how can something that is meant to separate us be right?
3) Part of the problem I see (as a Middle Aged White Christian Guy) is that there is too much talk about what differentiates Black and White Americans and not enough on what binds us together. And as long as there is a 'Black Consciousness Movement', Dr King's dream is dead.
4) Christianity is not a 'White' religion, it is a religion that is embraced by all people of color. And happens to be the fastest growing religion in the continent of Africa.
5) If you are celebrating Kwanzaa to celebrate your Black uniqueness, then you are part of the problem, not the solution.
6) I celebrate Christmas, not because it is a 'White' holiday who's current symbol is an old White guy in a red suit, I celebrate it because I honor the birth of my savior (and your's too). And who happens to be color blind.
7) Kwanzaa's roots are racism, that is the truth. And I for one can't abide by this, so I informed my readers of this. I also don't like the idea of a celebration that was created by a racist criminal being legitimized by people that are ignorant of Kwanzaa's creator and the reason behind it.
So if you want to celebrate Kwanzaa, that is your right as an American, and I would die to protect that right, but keep in mind, that it is not something that brings Americans together, it's purpose is to separate Americans, and I feel that is wrong. And a shout out to Carlotta, because her site was one that I used in helping develop my post.
Ahh. Point by point.
1) If you didn't inform your readers about the context of the invention then you do them a disservice.
2) Considering that I've paid a lot more attention to it I would say that you're the one doing the feeling. I'm an original source. I was there. I am not anti-white. If you cannot distinguish between pro-black and anti-white how can you expect to pass credible judgment?
3) Sure there's a lot of talk about differences. That's not what Kwanzaa is about. The Black Consciousness Movement is done. You clearly haven't read any history of it. Read Stephen Biko's biography to start. Understand that Nelson Mandela is a champion. King is not the only moral leader on the planet worth minding, nor is there a conflict between black consciousness and King's ideals.
4) I am aware of this. It is not an item of contention.
5) I am celebrating Kwanzaa as part of a family tradition and out of respect for the values of the Nguzo Saba which you completely ignore. This is like me suggesting that you celebrate Christmas in the same way Adolph Hitler did without minding the message of Christ.
6) Yes of course. Good for you. God is fully aware of my color, are you suggesting that he cannot see it and love me as well? Or is that your particular shortcoming?
7) I am not ignorant of Kwanzaa. You may find people who are. Chances are they'll listen to your bad faith. More's the pity. You're probably the type of person who won't believe Kwanzaa isn't divisive until you see black, white and brown children singing the Kwanzaa songs in unison at the Winter Carnival. I'd be happy to provide you with such video, but I have ethical concerns about publishing other people's children on the internet. You have a lot of learning to do my friend. This website is open to your perusal. Avail yourself.
These are some random peaks of a multifaceted iceberg. At some point in the future we’ll get some GPT or graduate student of good provenance to rigorously go through and organize it into something more easily consumable. Or not. Maybe crawling through the rubble of text is part of the journey towards truth. I can’t presume to know what you will find valuable. It’s one of the reasons I’m doing it now, instead of during the Kwanzaa season. The other reason is that I have substantively nothing more to say about Juneteenth or the capitalization of Black. But on Kwanzaa, I got into it over four years, now 20 years ago.
Again, there are really no points to make but that American fixation on race captures some part of us all on our journeys of discovery. I never wanted to be the poster child for Kwanzaa, though I’m probably the most logical choice of all who survived. Karenga’s still alive, as is my father. The Reference is my story about Kwanzaa in about as much detail as I can muster, and there it is. Take a copy.
What I Think Today
I haven’t celebrated Kwanzaa since probably 2007 I guess. It was for the kids mostly and for my nostalgia of when I came back to celebrate back in my early 30s. I wanted at that time to put a bit more rationality and real history into the lightweight Afrocentric take on Kwanzaa, but I also was quite serious about cultural production as all young creatives are.
Philosophically nothing has changed. It’s a “yes, and”. I see no conflict between its principles and Christianity or any other religion, and I don’t see it as unpatriotic, though I admit that I am more skeptical of the patriotism of those Americans who prefer to be Black, or ADOS, or People of Color. I guess that boils down to power struggles. I perhaps should look out because my disinterest is a consequence of having a damned good day job in a functional meritocracy that values quality work. But yes also I acknowledge the excuses around matters of competency used in people’s failures in the patriotism department. Ironic those people vote for Biden or Trump. But that’s another story.
On the other hand, the more commercialized Juneteenth becomes, the more I like Kwanzaa.
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