I was listening to one of those vitriolic radio talk shows last night in my car and they were discussing the endless debate about P.C. holiday talk—whether it’s offensive to wish someone a Merry Christmas, blah blah blah. The topic makes my head hurt at this point, especially five days after Christmas. An African-American man called in to say that he was in Target that afternoon when a white sales clerk wished him a Happy Kwanzaa. This man took great offense to the greeting, saying it made him feel singled out in a weird way, almost like the clerk was mocking him, and that furthermore he’s never celebrated Kwanzaa in his life, he barely knows what it is. The host asked the man if he were in the heavily Jewish Fairfax district of Los Angeles, would he wish someone on the street a Happy Hanukkah. He said that he wouldn’t.
For all my rants against the P.C. term “Happy Holidays,” I realized after listening to that discussion that I might find it a little uncomfortable if a total stranger came up to me and said “Happy Hanukkah” unless it occurred in some kind of Jewish context. Why is that? I have to admit that my first thought would be, “How do they know I’m Jewish?” My second thought would be, “What do they think of Jews?” My religious affiliation is hardly something that I try to hide and I’ve never been the victim of anti-Semitism, but I guess I carry the lingering cell memories of Jewish persecution. I was surprised to realize that in spite of my personal experience I still have the ability to transform a simple “Happy Hanukkah” greeting into a mob of Nazis chasing me down a Warsaw street with their killer dogs nipping at my heels.
The man on the radio also made me think about Kwanzaa. What is up with this holiday? Kendall and I now live in a largely black neighborhood near downtown L.A. We’ve gotten to know many of our neighbors and have recently attended holiday parties in their homes. But I’ve yet to meet a single person who has ever celebrated Kwanzaa. Obviously some people must, and I’m not claiming that the few black people I know represent the African-American community in Los Angeles. So why am I skeptical about this holiday? Is it because it was created in 1966? Do I have some kind of bias that the only “real” holidays are ones that have been celebrated for hundreds of years or more? As if there is anything more “authentic” about Christmas or Hanukkah? All holidays are invented by people for various reasons, what difference does it make if that occurred a thousand years ago or 40? And we all know that many of the rituals of Hanukkah, especially the gift-giving part, were only thrown in to counterbalance the Christmas customs which are so prevalent in our culture.
I guess the main thing about Kwanzaa that makes me pause is the whole P.C. hoopla surrounding it. I know it’s very in vogue to criticize political correctness these days but then again, how lucky are we to be living in a time where we are complaining about that rather than blacks being forced to sit in the back of a bus or Jews not being allowed to buy homes in certain neighborhoods because of restrictive covenants. That said, I do wonder whether Kwanzaa has become a P.C.-fest for white people. I wanted to heave the other day when I heard President Bush’s official 2005 White House Kwanzaa Message:
I send greetings to those observing Kwanzaa.
As families and friends gather for Kwanzaa, Americans remember the many contributions African Americans have made to our country's character and celebrate the diversity that makes our Nation strong. May your commitment to family, faith, and community thrive during this holiday season and throughout the coming year.
Laura and I send our best wishes for a happy Kwanzaa.
Thank God he wasn’t wearing a dashiki or lighting a kinara. I guess there was nothing so terrible in his message, except when you consider his own administration’s appalling lack of support for the African-American community and the seven principles of Nguzo Saba that are the basis for the Kwanzaa celebration.
What really scared me yesterday is that I read an article written by conservative mudslinger Ann Coulter on the subject and parts of her obnoxious, over-the-top ramblings really made me stop and think. I am certainly no fan of this woman or any of her wacked out beliefs, including her plan for the Arab world: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” Kendall’s uncle inexplicably gave me a copy of Coulter’s “How to Talk to Liberals (If You Must)” for Christmas that is full of such insane talk. I do admit to a certain fascination with how far Coulter will go so I’m trying to figure out how to read portions of the book without bending the spine so I can still return it for credit. Coulter begins her Kwanzaa piece by mocking Bush’s 2005 Kwanzaa Greeting (I’m with her there) and then goes on to discuss the origins of the holiday:
I believe more African-Americans spent this season reflecting on the birth of Christ than some phony non-Christian holiday invented a few decades ago by an FBI stooge. Kwanzaa is a holiday for white liberals, not blacks.
It is a fact that Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by a black radical FBI stooge, Ron Karenga, aka Dr. Maulana Karenga. Karenga was a founder of United Slaves, a violent nationalist rival to the Black Panthers and a dupe of the FBI. In what was probably ultimately a foolish gamble, during the madness of the '60s the FBI encouraged the most extreme black nationalist organizations in order to discredit and split the left. The more preposterous the organization, the better. Karenga's United Slaves was perfect.
I’m not willing to take Ann Coulter’s word on Karenga or the United Slaves movement and I need to do more research on the subject. Not that I have any desire to discredit Kwanzaa. If people want to celebrate the holiday, I will cheer them on, but I can’t deny that I’ve shared some of Coulter’s cynicism for the way the whiteys are jumping on the Kwanzaa bandwagon to try to score points with this alleged groundswell of Kwanzaa participants. Who are these participants? Are families around the country really gathering for Kwanzaa this week as Bush suggests? Coulter calls Kwanzaa “a lunatic blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism, and Marxism” and claims that the seven principles of Kwanzaa are the very same seven principles of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Oy. I don’t know about that, but it’s hard to argue with the principles at face value:
1. UMOJA (oo-MOE-jah) (UNITY) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
2. KUJICHAGULIA (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-ah) (SELF-DETERMINATION) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
3. UJIMA (oo-JEE-mah) (COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY) To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together.
4. UJAMAA (oo-JAH-mah) (COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
5. NIA (nee-AH) (PURPOSE) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
6. KUUMBA (koo-OOM-bah) (CREATIVITY) To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
7. IMANI (ee-MAH-nee) (FAITH) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
I’d love to hear from anyone who actually does celebrate Kwanzaa. Are you out there or are the claims that millions of people observe the holiday in this country part of some multicultural charade?
In any event, I wish one and all a Happy 5th Day of Kwanzaa, a Happy 6th Day of Hanukkah, and a Happy 48th Birthday to Matt Lauer whose adoring, flirtatious exchange with Ann Coulter on Tuesday morning allowed her to spew her crazy message to millions of “Today Show” viewers.