Haboob Manifesto, Pt. 3: Kwanzaa

Today is the second day of Kwanzaa and is identified as Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), which is clearly defined as

To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves

For those who don’t know, Kwanzaa is an annual celebration for individuals who identify as being of African descent. It follows partly from African harvest festivals and celebrates “family, community, and culture.”

The annual message from the founder of Kwanzaa identifies three questions that must be answered:

  • Who am I?
  • Am I really who I am?
  • Am I all I ought to be? 

The point of asking these questions, not just during the celebration of Kwanzaa but throughout the year, is to attempt to seek out the places in our lives where we are falling short of bringing good to the world.

What is our purpose?

If we never question what we do, who we are, and what roots us to any life principles, we can never be assured that as we move down the Path of life that we are fulfilling the goals for which we were created in the first place.

The first principle of Kwanzaa was specifically celebrated yesterday. It is Umoja, or Unity, and directs us to consider the ways in which we work toward and maintain unity in all our relationships (personal, local, and global). Today, we consider the idea of Self-determination, which encourages us to clearly identify who we are as individuals and as a community.

Here’s my confession:

Until I had the opportunity to see The Black Candle documentary, I would say I was quite anti-Kwanzaa. I did not know anything about its foundation, the purpose of the celebration, nothing. I saw it as an attempt to ‘copy’ the commercialization of more ‘traditional’ holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah.

I cried when I watched the documentary. I was so ashamed of the way I had historically reacted to mentions of Kwanzaa. I came to realize that Kwanzaa is not a holiday of religious basis but of cultural basis. For so long, I was under the impression that Kwanzaa was some sort of fake religious celebration; for example, I mistook the kinara (candle holder) for an “Africanized” menorah.

The documentary went into detail about cooperative economics (Ujamaa, Principle 4), and how various organizations and corporations have made Kwanzaa a money-making enterprise. Hence my misunderstanding. As the documentary points out, when WalMart sells what they call Kwanzaa items, you know it has been commercialized. The point of cooperative economics is totally different and I missed all that. I am saddened that I am not alone in my lack of understanding; there are numerous threads out there that share many negative opinions about Kwanzaa. I am thankful I was never so blinded as to post such anti-celebration commentary.

But I am still saddened that, prior to this year, I had no understanding about something that, based on my desire to connect to expand my own knowledge and to support social justice work, is something that I should have been supporting long ago.

Knowledge is power. For that, and for opportunities to grow, I am grateful. I proudly celebrate (not fully this year, but one step at a time) Kwanzaa this year. For those of you who are not of African heritage, I encourage you to support those you know who are. Consider the principles. Value and appreciate them as cultural expressions of respect.

And enjoy this season of hope, renewal, and joy.