Happy Kwanzaa!

Patrick S. Poole

The Kwanzaa phenomenon has caught my attention over the past few years. In 1966 Professor Maulana Karenga of California State University at Long Beach created this seven-day celebration of African culture, which concludes on January 1st. Since then it has gained millions of followers among the African-American community.

Many people of my philosophical ilk are amused that Kwanzaa attempts to assimilate Jewish and Christian rituals and images into an event whose express purpose is to confront and contradict these very traditions. It is not so much the motivation to celebrate ones ethnicity that concerns me, after all, isn't that what St. Patrick's Day is all about for the Irish? (I must confess that I get a kick out of reminding my Irish Catholic friends and family that Patrick was a Brit.) But it is the philosophical assumptions that props up Kwanzaa that should give us all pause, because they are the very precepts which have kept the multitudes in Africa in economic and political bondage for millennia.

The third-day principle of Kwanzaa, Ujima, promotes the tribal concept of collective work. While this is indeed a tribal element still practiced in Africa, it is the specialization and division of labor that has allowed the West to flourish over the past two hundred years. It is the reason why Masai and Zulu tribesmen still live in grass huts, wear animal skins and must walk everywhere. It is a good thing that today we do not have to grow our food, build our houses and tend to our own lands. Division of labor and specialization has fueled the prosperity and progress in the West that all Africans envy. And yet it is the express denial of these important economic tools that Kwanzaa lauds.

The fourth-day principle of Kwanzaa, Ujamaa, praises "cooperative economics" (a warm euphemism for communism). Understanding that Professor Karenga formulated Kwanzaa in the heady days of the sixties, it is not necessary to iterate the litany of crimes against humanity that have been wrought at the hands of communist regimes in the past this century. It is worthy to note, however, that communism is in ascendancy on the African continent with large support from the glitterati of the Black Left in America.

Take for instance the on-going seizure of farmlands owned by white farmers by President Robert Mugabe and his administration in Zimbabwe. Despite a defense that this move will help "balance" the equation between the rich and poor, it is interesting to note that Mugabe's closest advisors grabbed up the rights to much of the land as soon as the confiscation program was announced. And yet not a word of protest was uttered by the self-appointed leaders of the African-American community. No calls for a boycott. No demonstrations at the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Washington.

The witness of Zimbabwe testifies to the failure to the principles enshrined by Kwanzaa. In the days of the British colonials, the infrastructure in the country was among the best on the continent. Since winning independence from Britain in the 1970s, the level of productivity and economic indicators in Zimbabwe rapidly turned southward. Under the stewardship of Mugabe and his cronies, the infrastructure today lies in shambles.

Nor does Black Africa embody any remote democratic tradition. The tyrannical and murderous regimes of Sese Seko, Moi, Amin, Kuanda, Edeyama and countless other two-bit dictators have been hailed by our African-American leadership as examples of the great African political legacy. The recent tour by Nation of Islam head, Louis Farrakhan, to meet with such democratic luminaries as Mummar Ghadafhi and Saddam Hussein demonstrates the high-regard that some have for this African political tradition.

The claims by Kwanzaa supporters that the holiday is purely a cultural festival, as opposed to a religious celebration, are ludicrous. The term "Kwanzaa" is derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza", which denotes the pagan rites associated with the first fruits of harvest. Kwanzaa is packaged for mass American consumption as a cultural and ethnic rite, and yet carries presuppositions which stand as a religious challenger to Christianity and Judaism, two religious traditions birthed and nurtured in Africa, because they include too many white people.

So as you gather around the menorah, uh... the Kinara to light the Mishumaa candles, and pass around the Christmas...er, sorry... Zawadi presents, I would urge the Kwanzaa participants to consider what tradition they truly want to be identified with. The Western tradition of private property, personal freedoms and the rule of law have resulted in the economic progress and political prosperity that both white and black Americans take for granted. The African tradition of collectivization, communism, religious elitism and tyranny continues to enslave the minds and resources of that rich continent. One could wish that some serious contemplation on this stark distinction would occur as millions gather around their Kwanzaa tables, but that would rob the event of its designed purpose.


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