In most of the U.S., secular and religious Christians are opening presents near a decorated evergreen tree and feasting. They sit in appreciation of family and friends. For some, this is one of the holiest days in the year, celebrating the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ. For secular and religious Jews, Hanukkah has just ended, celebrating a miracle of light.
In my family, we start celebrating on December 26th. Every year we do something deeply meaningful to us and to many Americans of predominately African ancestry. We focus on being strong and conscious in the face of overwhelming adversity. We begin the celebration of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa was created as a secular, positive response to police brutality, riots that engulfed many of our cities, and overwhelming poverty and incarceration in the Black community. It was created to combat the continued erosion of Black families despite the end of institutionalized slavery and Jim Crow.
Now, we’re facing a resurgence of old racist attitudes, reseeding the national conversation with new pleas for peace and equality. Massive non-violent protests have taken the place of riots and have extended around the globe. More Americans are beginning to understand the damage the idea of race has done to our society. I think we can go deeper. I think every American should be celebrating Kwanzaa.There is so much confusion in non-Black communities as to what the recent protests are all about. To some, the “Black Lives Matter” slogan means “to the exclusion of all others”, when what we really mean is “Black Lives Matter Also”. I get it. It is weird that someone could think that anyone’s life is less important than anyone else’s. It is hard to believe that anyone could be consistently attacked for no reason. There is a profound disbelief across the country that law-abiding Black citizens could be brutalized in their own neighborhoods and homes by law enforcement. Honestly, I wouldn’t believe it either if I didn’t see it so much in real life, but it’s true: my friends, my uncles, my brothers, my parents and I have been stopped or followed more times than I can count.
I think Kwanzaa can help every American understand the Black experience. I think it’s time to open it up, without compromise or apologies, without commercials or airbrushed images. I think that through Kwanzaa we can gain a more complete cultural exchange. It needs to be more than just some construction paper kinaras in our children’s kindergarten classes and kente cloth on one of the mannequins in the clothing store. We need to embrace Black American culture, not just as consumers, but as a nation.
If everyone can be Irish for St. Patrick’s Day, let’s all be Black for Kwanzaa.
For the next seven days I will be posting about the seven principles of Kwanzaa, which are ubiquitously relevant.
Do stay tuned.
A detailed history of Kwanzaa and its origins.
Download the Kwanzaa app. (unaffiliated)