Today is the second day of Kwanzaa and marks Part 3 in my ongoing Kwanzaa series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. As I have already established, I believe Kwanzaa is antithetical to traditional American values. Moreover I believe Kwanzaa’s creator, Dr. Ron Karenga meant it to be that way as he sees American values as destructive to “Africans in America”. You can refer back to Part 1 to read about the roots of Kwanzaa and why it is based in Marxist theory, but today we are here to explore the second of the seven principles of Kwanzaa – Kujichagulia.
As a teenager celebrating Kwanzaa, I hated this day the most because we could never pronounce it! Kujichagulia is Swahili for Self-Determination and the purpose of this principle under the Kwanzaa model is to “define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves”. At first blush, this seems like a an honorable and admirable principle. Don’t we tell our children often not to let others define them and to stick up for themselves? However, you must remember that we are looking at this through the eyes of a man who still carries much disdain for the America in which he has enriched himself and for white people in general. Karenga is also a purveyor of Marxist theory, and that is reflected in every principle of the celebration. On this day families are meant to light the red candle (although the order and number of colors can be flexible based on personal choice). According to kwanzaaguide.com: The red candle is symbolic of the effort a person, family, school or community makes. The lesson is that we light the red candle to reinforce the value of work and effort. Frederick Douglass reminds us that “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”
Again, on the surface this idea is not controversial, but as a Christian American who understands the history and intent of Kwanzaa I do find it antithetical to the American spirit and culture. The point of Kujichagulia is not just promote self-esteem, it is to separate oneself from the larger American culture. I’m all for cultural pride, but once again Karenga has determined that cultural pride can only be achieved by separatism, removing ourselves from our American communities. Indeed, any time in this country where we have seen communities engage in separatism it has become a disaster. Indian reservations across America are rife with poverty, drugs, alcoholism and abuse. Jim Crow laws led to a very sick society that eventually erupted in protests and violence. Even some cults who choose to wall themselves off from general American society have suffered great tragedies (Jim Jones, etc.). We are not meant to live separately from each other as cultures. Oh yes, culture is important and influential – that’s God’s flavoring! But cultures need not separate in order to thrive. As a matter of fact, American culture is so unique precisely because of all the other cultures it incorporates. It is a melting pot that takes the flavors of so many people who come here to find freedom and combines them to make one unique, diverse dish called America. Kujichagulia would have us breaking off from that American heritage, denouncing it, and declaring our African heritage (which is sometimes questionable this far into the history of America, as I mentioned in Part 1) as the only culture/heritage worth our pride our recognition.
I also take issue with the secular idea of defining ourselves, naming ourselves. God is removed from this equation under Kwanzaa. Dr. Karenga has been very clear that he does not wish for Kwanzaa to be religious in any way and that individuals can incorporate their own beliefs if they wish. Fine and dandy until you realize that Marxist/socialist theory calls for God to be removed from community life, and our Founding Fathers understood that belief in God was integral to a free society. We are defined by so much more than how we see ourselves. As a Christian, I believe I am defined by the Creator; a God Who has a purpose and a plan for my life and my community. I am a sinner. If I am left to define myself in totality, I am left with sin and a broken plan, for I do not see the larger picture. It is extremely valuable to understand that where you are and who you are with are all part of a bigger picture. Removing yourself and your community from that picture does not create prosperity, but division and hardship. We are meant to live intertwining lives. Our journey in America as Black people may have began in tragedy, but it has developed into a rich and influential history. We have become vital to the health and development of this nation. The curse of slavery has turned into a rich blessing. I would never want to separate myself or my family from that reality, or the blessings of the present because of the anger from the past. I believe Kujichagulia seeks to do that, whether or not Kwanzaa’s founder and celebrants would admit. This idea of separating ourselves is not American, and it is killing the Black community.
Part 4 tomorrow.