December 27, 2016


The holiday of Kwanzaa is now upon us. This seven-day feast (Dec. 26-Jan. 1) was devised in 1966 by Professor Ronald Everett of California State University at Long Beach, to instill a sense of cultural pride among African-American families. According to the website (, the holiday celebrates the “ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice.”

In recent years, Kwanzaa has gained traction as an occasion for gatherings of family and friends. It’s rooted in the seven principles of Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. Hallmark sells Kwanzaa-themed greeting cards that emphasize these principles, conveying a message of dignity and empowerment. At least, that’s the popular account that most people hear.
But none of it is true.

Yes, that’s right: everything about the Kwanzaa legend is false. Not exaggerated or misunderstood, but fabricated out of thin air. And yet, several American presidents have been persuaded to issue official proclamations. Even the reputable textbook publisher Prentice-Hall fell for the hoax a few years ago when they added a sanitized version of the story to their high school history text The American Nation.

As the apologists of Kwanzaa take to the internet and airwaves this week, they preach a revisionist history and disagree on many central tenets: Some say that only black families should participate, while others say it’s for everyone. Some say the holiday is a substitute for Christmas, while others insist that it’s a perfect complement. Some recognize it for the uniquely American observance that it is, while others persist in the claim that it’s an all-African celebration. Uniformly they complain that they’ve been marginalized in American society (hence the need for their own holiday), while failing to understand that their own efforts only widen that chasm.

The term Kwanzaa (“first fruits,” indicating a harvest festival) comes from Swahili, which Everett calls “the most widely spoken African language.” Not so: Swahili is spoken in only a few countries, all of which have at least one other major language. And they’re all on or near the east coast, whereas almost all American slaves (the ancestors of most American blacks) were snatched from the west. Further, the language isn’t uniquely African; over half of the vocabulary is borrowed from other languages, including English and French. But the biggest portion is from Arabic (which, by the way, is the most common language in Africa).

As a group, the Seven Principles (and their Swahili equivalents) were held sacred by at least two Marxist movements:

The Black Nationalist group Organization US (United Slaves), established by Everett in 1965 as a rival to the Black Panthers. They preach the superiority of all things African, believing that black folks should separate themselves from whites, and only patronize black businesses.

The Symbionese Liberation Army, a domestic terrorist group that kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and went on a crime spree in California in the 1970s.

The first Principle, in the traditional order, is Unity. Really? In truth, the disparate peoples of Africa have never been unified by any measure. They’ve waged war among themselves for thousands of years, since long before the arrival of white colonists or slave traders. Even today Hutus and Tutsis routinely massacre one another for no particular reason. Genocides have wiped out millions in Rwanda and Ethiopia, and warlords rule in Somalia and Liberia. It’s the Hatfields and the McCoys, ancient prejudices where no one remembers what they were fighting about in the first place.

The fourth Principle, Cooperative Economics, was a cornerstone doctrine of the Marxist Tanzanian dictator Julius Nyerere, who forced his citizens to toil on his collective farms. During his reign, the nation declined from the enviable status of a food exporter, to the continent’s biggest food importer.

Everett calls it a “pan-African” holiday, but this has never been true. No holiday of any kind, has ever been so widely observed across the continent. In many isolated tribal areas, the people don’t know or care who their national leaders are. Politicians don’t seek their votes, and even the most violent rebels don’t disturb them. Will they really set aside their centuries-old traditions and embrace a new holiday brought by a foreigner?

I wonder if anyone has ever dared to make such sweeping generalizations about the countries of Europe. Do they sing “God Save the Queen” in the opera houses of Lisbon, or can you order bratwurst at the cafes on the Champs-Élysées? I don’t think so. People don’t say “I’m European;” they say “I’m German.”

Interestingly, this holiday seems to be indistinguishable from the personality of Dr. Everett. (He has since invented an “African” name for himself, meaning “master teacher.”) It is described as an enterprise of the National Association of Kawaida (African culture) Organizations, and its official publications are produced by the University of Sankore Press. This might sound impressive until we consider that both of those organizations were established by (and continue to be headed by) Everett himself.

Some would like to discredit the holiday by pointing to Everett’s checkered past, and the violent history of Organization US. But in my mind, that’s not playing fair. The truth of a story doesn’t lie in the character of the teller; the undisputed record of history is all we need.

I have a few questions for Professor Everett:

What part of the Kwanzaa observance is ancient?

Seeing as the holiday was invented only 50 years ago, I don’t get it.

What aspect of Kwanzaa is distinctly African?

Unlike (say) France, which has a known language, political system, major religions, cuisine, and traditions, “Africa” is not a country. It’s not a monolithic civilization with a singular culture, and never was. The continent’s fifty-four nations speak hundreds of languages, practice hundreds of religions, and jealously guard their respective identities and customs. The composite “African” culture that Everett praises so highly, has never existed.

What is the significance of corn?

A proper Kwanzaa dinner table will be set with an ear of corn for each child in the house, but corn has absolutely no cultural meaning anywhere in Africa. The grain was introduced by foreign traders in the early 20th century, and even then was slow to gain acceptance. Corn is indigenous to Mexico, and no place else on earth.

What aspect of Kwanzaa is empowering?

Unclear. No society embracing this philosophy has ever prospered, and Black Nationalism only fosters hate and division. They promise to liberate, but invariably they enslave. Racism from a persecuted minority group is still racism, and nothing good can come from it.

Who is harvesting what, during this harvest festival?

Nobody and nothing. No farmer anywhere gathers crops in December.

What is significant about the date?

Surely it must have some meaning in African history or culture. The birth of a king, the founding of a nation, a military victory over an invading army?  Such, after all, is the stuff of national holidays. Well, how about it? Not even close. By Everett's own account he purposely scheduled the observance to draw attention away from Christmas, and borrowed many of its customs. Add the nightly lighting of a multi-stemmed candlestick, and I smell Hanukkah.

But why should we want to minimize Christmas?

In the view of many, Christmas is a white man’s holiday rooted in a white man’s religion, and culturally insensitive to non-whites. (Early on, the teenaged evangelist Al Sharpton said it would serve to "de-whitize" Christmas.) They’re misinformed: The Christian faith thrived in Africa very early on. John Mark (author of the second Gospel) established a congregation in Alexandria in the first century. (The Islamic invaders, with their forced conversions, didn’t arrive until about six hundred years later.) Some of our greatest theologians (Augustine, Clement, Irenaeus, Athanasius) served as leaders of African churches in the first few centuries.

Many would say that we detractors of Kwanzaa just don’t get it. We don’t understand black culture or traditions, and we've never walked in their shoes. But when you invent a false culture and a made-up history that have never existed, we’re no longer in the realm of “perspective.” These claims are demonstrably false. Period.

Ultimately the tragedy of Kwanzaa (or the philosophies surrounding it) is that they will never achieve the ends they seek. No one has ever empowered a downtrodden people by inventing a false heritage for them. No society has ever advanced itself by embracing a self-identity based on eternal victimhood. And will they ever reconcile with the white or Christian population of our nation?

Their fiery rhetoric and exclusivist teachings seem to imply that they don’t even desire to try.

1 comment:

  1. It’s rooted in the seven principles of Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. ->>> this is sound great! :D