Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas or Kwanzaa? Does it Even Matter Anymore?

In my 20s, especially during my years at City College in Harlem under the tutelage of Dr. Leonard Jeffries, I and other newly africentric kats and dolls vehemently celebrated Kwanzaa, although we secretly missed decorating our Christmas trees but never said a word, afraid of appearing politically unconscious. It was the 1980s and night time soap operas like Dynasty and Dallas were helping Reagan turn the disco phase into a more formal state. So to us, Kwanzaa was the perfect weapon against a bling machine that rejected simplicity and self-reflection; more specifically, pride for one's African ancestry. Even with the emphasis of the times moving from free expression to fear of non-conformity, we still called one another brotha and sista as a way of reminding ourselves of the collective pact we made as students of the latest Black Movement. We were too young back then and way too impressionable to realize that the African clothes we proudly wore and the intoxicating lingo that came with it would soon become a phase in itself. Sister Souljah's No Disrespect had caused a well-deserved fuss but not enough to stop young honies from encouraging wanna-be thugs to literally show their asses! And even while Sean Combs' peeps were trying to pack in more than the allowed number of students in a campus hall that ended up causing some to lose their lives, we never anticipated the bling machine taking a turn for the worse; we didn't think Hip Hop would be hijacked by greedy businessmen who could care less about the plight of poor Black people or how Blacks are portrayed in the media. We also didn't think there'd be a mass rejection of authentic sub-Saharan culture and pride by American Blacks themselves. We just didn't see it coming.

Fast forward to present day when Rap connoisseur, Nas has issues with Hip Hop going from community-first to ice pop. But by this time most Black folks ain't feelin' his call for spiritual restoration. Too much money at stake and just not enough market for critical thinking. That's if you leave out the likes of Common, Mos Def, The Roots, Kanye, and Lupe Fiasco. And there lies Kwanzaa somewhere between the death of true Hip Hop and the abandonment of Dr. Maulana Karenga's gift to us.

Of course, there're still a few die-hards out there who are keeping The Seven Principles alive. But here's my challenge to them-- Do we really need Kwanzaa to show unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith? No disrespect; and I'm not just repeating a book title. But just like our fraternities and sororities, and even masonries, for that matter, that only end up dividing us even more, do we really need cliques as reasons to come together and for having each others' backs as a people? Shouldn't it be a given that we're all in this together? That our actions reflect our solidarity no matter what religion we subscribe to, which economic class we look like, or whether we're light-skinned or dark-skinned? I don't mean to suggest that Kwanzaa should simply be done away with because I understand why it needed to be introduced, in the first place. I'm just askin', Do we need seven days to behave in a way we ought to be behaving every day? Do I have to be part of an organized gang before getting any love? Is Kwanzaa still the answer to our self-esteem problems, or does it come down to who got the power to push what?

I'm not gonna speak for my transpotted classmates who now could care less about Umoja and Kuumba. Not when they're too busy being American. But here's why I don't celebrate Kwanzaa--

1) Hood formality dictates that my homies and I give the first sip of beer or liquor to those who crossed over;

2) I pray to those before and after me, with the total belief that they guide and protect me from those who may want to cause me harm;

3) I believe in pan-African unity, even if R Kelly and Mugabe are an embarassment;

4) I write books and give workshops for the sole betterment of our people with no apology, and sometimes with no tangible compensation;

5) I encourage those of us who use our neighborhoods as trash cans to consider the word ghetto as merely a group of people who not only look alike but share the same values, and then I ask them what their values are;

6) I define myself not by the limitations we place on ourselves, but by my ability to think beyond victimization and internalized racism;

7) Even when my own kind disses me, I still show ethnic pride!

If you ask most Blacks what the seven principles of Kwanzaa are they usually can't come up with the first one. With so much emphasis on bling these days and the music videos that bring it, it's hard to expect otherwise. Not to mention our nervous allegiance to Christianity, although behind closed doors we find ways to fight back by still giving honor to our collective plight. And anyway, wasn't it Brother Minister Malcolm who said you can't be both african and american? That the two contradict each other, like we vs I, us vs me?

No matter how much we try incorporating Kwanzaa into our psyche, Black Friday still manages to win out! Seems to me the way to go about keeping this tradtion alive--if we even want to call it a tradition--is to simply allow it into our daily lives so that it's not such a foreign thing whenever its official date comes around. You know, like Jewish folks do.

Merry Christmas, everyone
and an even Happier New Year!....Ashe