As an African-centered scholar-activist, I have generally found little about holidays in the U.S. that people of African descent should commemorate, celebrate or observe. With the exception of the Martin Luther King Day National Holiday, virtually every one of them is tainted by reminders of our painful struggle for dignity, humanity and equality in the face of racist oppression and exploitation. Or, they have been subverted by rabid commercialism within a greed driven, consumption obsessed, “free market” capitalist system. In my view, the African experience in the U.S. should dictate that the Black community serves as a source of resistance to celebrations that do not advance our struggle for full freedom. My perspective notwithstanding, the mass, popular allure of U.S. holidays is such that the vast majority of Black people will join other Americans in observing them. Recognizing this fact, over the years, I have sought to at least offer counsel/advice to our people as to how best to observe holidays that are not our own.
First, I am always cautioning Africans in America to avoid the pitfalls of the kind of historical amnesia and ignorance (lack of knowledge) of real history that plagues large numbers of people in this country. In that regard, during the “celebration” of Thanksgiving, it is important to pause and reflect on the fact that we are all the beneficiaries of the betrayal and brutal dispossession of the Native people who inhabited this land prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European colonists. The infamous “Trail of Tears” where Native Nations from the southeast were forcibly removed and resettled in Oklahoma is a metaphor for the betrayal and destruction of Nations of people who welcomed the Pilgrims with open arms. And yet, as families sit around the table to count their blessing on Thanksgiving, seldom is there a prayer that Native People might overcome the horrific poverty and related ills that are a legacy of their dispossession or a commitment to stand with them in this struggle. As formerly enslaved people, Africans in America should never forget the plight of Native people.
Second, I have consistently urged people of African descent to avoid the folly/foolishness of the Xmas season, the capitalist, super-commercialized version of Christmas -- as epitomized by the annual “Black Friday” ritual -- the mad dash to “shop ‘til you drop” to aid/assist giant retail corporations to meet their bottom line. Frankly, without Black consumers indulging in Black Friday, there would be frantic panic on Wall Street as the profits of giant retailers plunged. Why should Black dollars buttress a capitalist system that shamelessly raises credit card interest rates and fees despite the obedient adherence of consumers to the rules of “good credit?” Why should Black dollars further enrich capitalists who routinely deceived people pursuing the American dream to take on sub-prime mortgage loans, and bundled them in reckless profiteering schemes that nearly wrecked the economy of the U.S. and the world. I have repeatedly argued that Black people should utilize Black consumer power during the Xmas season to leverage the demand for reparations. If Black people would just agree to “keep Christ in Christmas” for one season and focus on the spiritual/religious aspects of this Christian holiday, corporate America would be ready to press the government to settle our claim!
Since that is an unlikely prospect, I nonetheless believe Black consumers should be prudent during the Xmas season. Rather than indulging in an orgy of buying and gift giving, why not set a reasonable budget and stay within it. Purchase useful gifts and items that will have educational value for the children in the family. And, by all means support Black economic development by first and foremost “buying Black.” I don’t want to be the Black Scrooge, but anything other than a prudent/thoughtful fiscally responsible approach to the Xmas season is simply mindless merriment that supports an amoral system to the detriment of African people.
That brings me to the importance of Kwanzaa. One of the great triumphs of the Black Freedom Struggle in the last half century has been the institutionalization of Kwanzaa as a mass-based, non-religious, non-sectarian, non-commercial Black Holiday. Conceived by Dr. Maulana Karenga, founder of the US organization, Kwanzaa provides an African Centered alternative to Xmas without detracting from the observance of Christmas. Based on Kawaida, the Doctrine of Tradition and Reason and the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles of the Black Value System), Kwanzaa involves the kind of reflection on our history, culture, family, community and legacy of struggle I believe should be central to our observance of any holiday. Kwanzaa also incorporates celebrative music, poetry and art, also making it a joyous, fun filled holiday in addition to being educational and political.
Whether one celebrates Kwanzaa or not, as I reflect on the holiday season, I hope people of African descent will place a high premium on the value of family as opposed to crass materialism; that we will be true to our historic respect for spiritual and humanistic values as instrumental to our survival and development as an unwanted people in a hostile land; that our struggle for freedom renders us empathetic to the trials and tribulations of other oppressed people; that we will not senselessly feed our dollars into a monstrous system that places profit above the welfare of people; that we will find joy, pleasure and fulfillment in family, friends and the community; and, that we will reflect on what is required for Africans in America to finish the course, to finally be able to say, “thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.