Tag Archives: Maulana Ron Karenga

Umoja – First Principle of Kwanzaa (Part 2 of Kwanzaa Series)

This is part two in my seven day series on Kwanzaa and why I feel it is antithetical to American values.  Read Part 1 here.

Umoja (Unity) – On this first day of Kwanzaa the family gathers together to light the first of seven red, black and green candles in the Kinara. The colors are born out of the colors of African flags but represent the blood of oppressed black men (red), the color of our skin and that of the ancestors (black) and the land that has been stolen and denied our people but that is vital to our ultimate independence (green). Dr. Karenga describes the meaning of Umoja in his most recent annual Kwanzaa newsletter: The principle of Umoja (unity) speaks to our need to develop and sustain a sense of oneness, righteous and rightful togetherness in the small and large circles and significant relations of our lives, from family and friendship to community and the cosmos. It urges us to practice a principled and peace- ful togetherness rooted in mutual respect; justice; care and concern; security of person; and equitably shared goods. And it calls on us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, suffering and struggling peoples of the world in the cooperative achievement of these goods.

I suppose if you read this without context or understanding of the roots of this modern tradition that description may sound rather harmless, but as a Christian who has just finished celebrating the most joyous of holidays I see it as dark and rather joyless.  Read that to your children.  Do they get excited to celebrate Umoja based on that? No, I didn’t think so. Even little kids understand joy, where it is and where it isn’t.  Dr.Karenga may want us to believe this is a positive occasion, but the undertone of the day one of taking account of pain and past offenses; as opposed to Christmas, which is about forgiveness and freedom from the sting of death.

The lighting ceremony begins with a prayer (to the Cosmos, I guess. God really hasn’t much to do with Kwanzaa) and Harambe – a call for “unity and collective work and struggle of the family” (how uplifting!).  Harambe is symbolized by each member of the family raising their hand above their head and making a fist as they pull their hand down (reminiscent of the traditional Black Power fist).  It is done in sets of seven.  Some families choose to sing the Kwanzaa song at this time. It goes like this:

Kwanzaa is a holiday

Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa 

Is an African holiday

Seven Principles

Seven Candles

Seven Black days for the African


The candle is lit and gifts are exchanged, one gift for each day. Gifts are meant to reflect Black heritage and community and the struggle for liberation of the Black people. A discussion about the principle and how it can better self, family and the Black community is meant to ensue.  We always hated that part.  Sullen teenagers and squirmy 4 year olds rarely have patience for such things when cartoons and 21 Jumpstreet are awaiting us in the next room.

The idea of celebrating one’s culture is not new and certainly valuable but Karenga’s Kwanzaa is more than just a cultural celebration.  In fact, I would challenge the idea that it’s a celebration at all.  It is a somber reminder, a salt shaker shoved in the wound of transgressions our very recent ancestors worked so hard to overcome.  For me, it does not promote healing or self-esteem but anger and division.  It keeps our people in the mindset that they are different, not American, but simply a stolen people living in a strange land. But we are not strangers to this country anymore. We are not African-Americans.  We are Americans.  Many of us don’t even have roots in Africa.  Our ancestries go back to the Caribbean or Latin America.  It is wrong to continue to promote the idea of our “otherness”.  We are not others, we are Americans.  Our culture is not in danger of disintegrating.  Indeed, American culture has always turned on Black culture – rap music, jazz, poetry, dance, fashion, slang- Black culture continues to inform the American culture at large.  It does our community a disservice to promote a perpetual state of anger.  I find the principle of Umoja the polar opposite of unity. Fail.

Back to Part I: Why Kwanzaa is Antithetical to American Values

Why Kwanzaa is Antithetical to American Values – Part 1

When I was a teenager my stepmother decided we should start celebrating Kwanzaa.  My sister was just a toddler at the time, and step-mom was sincerely concerned for her cultural identity.  Though we lived in the “chocolate city” of Washington D.C., we were growing up in a multi-cultural lifestyle.  I was from Canada and my mother and much of my family is white; my younger siblings went to school and daycare in a middle class atmosphere where there was a healthy mix of races; our parents socialized with people of all races and creeds.  We had no lack of exposure to other lifestyles and perspectives.  However, my stepmother was concerned that my little sister might grow up feeling distant from her own culture and inadequate in the face of her other friends with “good hair” or lighter skin tones.  Her very genuine concern for her daughter and all of us led her to establish Kwanzaa as a Christmas alternative in our home.  We hated it.  It wasn’t Christmas.  It was weird. And we couldn’t pronounce all the days of Kwanzaa. Kujicahgulia? Say that five times fast.

Eventually we stopped celebrating Kwanzaa and I never really gave the “holiday” any more thought until I had children of my own and became a conservative. As I’ve immersed myself in conservative thought and analysis I’ve often come across harsh criticism of Kwanzaa as a Marxist, separatist occasion.  This Christmas season I began thinking back to my Kwanzaa days as we celebrated the birth of Christ, our Savior.  I find Christmas to be not just a religious holiday in this country, but a cultural celebration as well.   For those who do not embrace Christ, it still has a uniquely American flavor as we celebrate in this country. As Americans it’s a time we all spend together with our families, appreciating the beauty of the winter season, the lights, the food and the camaraderie.  Everyone seems to be in a better mood at Christmas-time (except if you happen to be one of those Black Friday shoppers; those people can be ruthless!).

To me, Kwanzaa is not just cultural celebration; it is antithetical to the American spirit in general and flies in the face of everything the Christmas season represents in this country. Far from being a traditional celebration, Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, a convicted felon and influential leader in the Black liberation movement of the 1960’s.  Dr.Karenga is currently a professor of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach.  Karenga’s goal was to create a holiday as an alternative to the “white” celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah that would emphasize “Black” values and liberation.  Far from the Christmas idea of a season of forgiveness and peace, Kwanzaa seeks to separate Black culture from American culture and emphasize the wrongs that have been perpetrated against the Black community. It does so under the guise of celebrating “African unity”, but reading the official Kwanzaa website dispels that notion. Kwanzaa is about division, and it uses 7 days, beginning after Christmas, to note that division. Marxism is explicitly reflected in the language of the celebration as “collectivism” and “solidarity”.  Each of the seven days represents a different “principle” and is celebrated by the lighting of a candelabra called a kinara, not unlike the Menorah of Hanukkah.  The website kwanzaa.com describes Kwanzaa this way: This holiday is observed from December 26th through January 1st. Again its focus is to pay tribute to the rich cultural roots of People of the African Diaspora…Its reach has grown to include all whose roots are in the Motherland.  Its’ concept is neither religious nor political, but is rooted strongly in a cultural awareness…Gifts are given to reinforce personal growth and achievement which benefits the collective community.

 Kwanzaa most certainly is political.  Dr.Karenga is no fan of America or White people in general and his development of Kwanzaa is a consequence of that disdain.  Today is the first official day of Kwanzaa. As we move through the seven days of Kwanzaa, I will break down each principle and why I feel it does not reflect American values and has no place as a “cultural celebration” in our American experience.  Marxism and separatism have no place in a country built on the principles of individual responsibility and the inclusiveness of God. Over the next seven days we will explore the modern tradition of Kwanzaa and why I believe it has no place in the season we as Americans know as the Christmas season.  To read about day one of Kwanzaa and the first “principle”, please go here.  Also, please note: this is not written as a rejection of the importance of Black culture but to expose the false “tradition” of Kwanzaa as a Marxist, separatist holiday that does more to divide the Black community than unite it.

Next:  Umoja:  First Principle of Kwanzaa