Debra J. Dickerson’s New York Times article, “A Case of the Kwanzaa Blues” nicely summarizes the essential elements of the Kwanzaa holiday while simultaneously expressing the author’s opinion that Kwanzaa emphasizes traditions form a time and place alien to most African-Americans instead of celebrating the Western attitudes that helped their ancestors overcome slavery.
Kwanzaa, Dickerson explains, was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. It’s a holiday that’s acceptance has grown widespread, as evidenced by the fact that the United States Postal service released a commemorative Kwanzaa stamp.
However, Dickerson takes issue with many aspects of Kwanzaa. For example, she notes that Karenga’s Kwanzaa Web site consistently refers to “Africans” rather than “African-Americans.” But Africa, Dickerson points out, is a continent, not a country, and as such contains a variety of regions, languages, and cultural traditions that cannot be easily summed up in a single holiday as Karenga has attempted to do by creating Kwanzaa.
Dickerson argues that one must also bay credence to the role that Western traditions, especially Christianity, play in African-American tradition. While many African-Americans celebrate both Kwanzaa and Christmas, Dickerson questions the need for Kwanzaa in the first place.
According to a Wikipedia article on Kwanzaa, Karenga has been critical of Christianity, publicly stating that “Jesus was psychotic” and that blacks should shun Christianity as a “white” holiday. While Karenga stated in 1997 that “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday,” his earlier statement that “it was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing [Christmas] holiday” is indicative of the original rational for Kwanzaa’s inception. However, Dickerson is correct in her assessment of Christianity’s role in African-American history. She states, “[Black’s] new religion was immediately reforged as both palliative and weapon. In rejecting Christmas and Christianity, blacks reject the primary force for black American sustenance and resistance.”
Kwanzaa doesn’t simply deny black’s Christian roots; it is also divisive, and not only be creating a separate holiday just for blacks. Dickerson points out in the opening of her article that Kwanzaa can be divisive among blacks, pitting against each other those that consider Kwanzaa an important cultural celebration apart from or in addition to Christmas, and those that are very religious and think that Christmas is enough. In trying not to offend people, Kwanzaa, Dickerson asserts, can sometimes contain more holiday stress than holiday cheer. Should this divisive nature of the holiday be grounds for arguing against its practice? Probably not, considering that other holidays, including Christmas, can be controversial. However, weighing African American’s African cultural heritage against their Western religious heritage is indeed an important issue to consider.