Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Kwanzaa: The Milli Vanilli of Holidays

***Due to simultaneous emergencies in VSB land last night — Champ was home making soup, P was judging a thong contest at a 24-hour bowling alley, and Liz was actually in the thong contest (she came in 2nd) — we reached out to the homie Luvvie to provide today’s post. She was reluctant at first, but a quart of rice and a half gallon of baby oil eventually swayed her. Enjoy.***

Kwanzaa is the Milli Vanilli of Holidays. It tries too hard to be authentic, but at the end of the day, it’s just a lip-synching, bad locs-wearing version of Hanukkah in Cross Colors Kente.

I’ve never been a fan of Kwanzaa and I doubt I’ll ever be one. This might be because I’m an elitist African. Or maybe I’m just a professional hater. Or both. Either way, I’ve often had to stop myself from saying “Harambe DEEZ” when people tell me “Happy Kwanzaa” thinking I celebrate it, especially because I’m from the motherland. White folks tend to think I’m the person to direct that greeting to and I usually just respond with a blank stare or a half nod. I’m African but I don’t fux with Kwanzaa celebratorily.

According to the official website (which looks like it was built on Geocities), “Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture.” Too bad this celebration of culture and roots isn’t even celebrated by most Africans. I’m not saying I know every African on this Earth, but I know NONE who celebrate Kwanzaa. I didn’t even know about Kwanzaa til I was 9, when I came to theUnited States, and we learned about it in school. I had never even heard of it. My sister even asked me if Al Sharpton invented it in 1984. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was actually Jesse Jackson.

The fact that Africans don’t celebrate Kwanzaa doesn’t make it invalid, but it’s like saying you’re paying homage to Native American culture by putting a feather in your cap and saying “HEYHOWAREYA” as you dance around a campfire. We don’t all speak Swahili, nor do we fist pump and go “Harambe” as celebration when we kill a goat. Pan-Africanism is all well and dandy but it doesn’t need to come packaged in cowrie shells, dashikis and Swahili. Kwanzaa is that teacher in high school who wears kente cloth on MLK Day that she bought it from87th street. You don’t have to do all that to show pride, or to reconnect to ancestors.

Besides that, Maulana Karenga — creator of Kwanzaa — gets hella side-eyes himself. Apparently, his motives behind creating the holiday was to make sure Black folks didn’t celebrate Christmas because apparently, Jesus was a crip and and Christmas is for suckas. So he decided to put together Black Hanukkah, complete with a menorah and candles in the Pan-African colors of red, green and black. Oh. Ok.

And that whole incident in the 70s where he was convicted of torturing a couple of his “African Queens” with electrical cord beatings and hot irons in their mouths. Yeah… Karenga seems to have hella issues.

BUT, I’m not pissing on Kwanzaa entirely. I guess the 7 principles are nice and useful if practiced. Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith ARE great principles for black folks to hold dear. But I think black culture is rich enough to where these can be emphasized without being in this Swahili-ness that Karenga decided on. Black Americans, your love is too legendary and the culture is too rich to have Kwanzaa throw it back in your face in a harambe fist pump. I’m all about celebrating African American culture, uplifting my people but to me, Kwanzaa reeks of “try too hard.” Blame it on the Boondocks.

Kwanzaa is the Michelle Williams of holidays. It has good intentions (I guess) but it doesn’t curl all the way over for me. I don’t have a problem with people who celebrate it, though. Besides, I admit my hypocrisy, because I do celebrate Christmas, which is also technically made up. And I know Jesus isn’t a Capricorn but whatevs. I’ll take my December full of materialism, cheesy carols and sweet alabaster white baby Jesus in a manger. And some jolly old dude breaking into my house to eat my cookies (pause)  and drop off a gift. Yes. That’s much better.

Anyway, people of VSB.com: Tell us how you really feel about Kwanzaa.  Do you celebrate it? If so, why? If not, why not?

The Kwanzaa tree(?) is yours.

You can find Luvvie at Awesomely Luvvie, on Twitter, or milking goats at various mangers in the greater Chicago-area. .

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • When I was 5 years old I asked my parents if we could celebrate Kwanzaa.
    They asked me what I think Kwanzaa is about.
    I walked out of the room in silence.
    I still don’t know what Kwanzaa is about to this day.

  • Iamnotakata

    Kwanzaa is crap!! No really it is…its a joke and I don’t embrace or celebrate I almost got the hell slapped out of me for asking if we were celebrating it when I was young and unknowing in elementary school…sorry but it gets no love from me or my people in West Africa….we def give it a major side eye…

  • nya

    african elitist? dun…this is ignorant.

  • “Apparently, his motives behind creating the holiday was to make sure Black folks didn’t celebrate Christmas because apparently, Jesus was a crip and and Christmas is for suckas.”

    I. Died. It’s hard to celebrate Kwanzaa for me. While the statement is good, the motive….was not so much. And I am NOT a fan of the founder. All of this unity and stuff he claims to be for, but he was in cahoots with folks to take down the BPP? Hmm. I’ll pass on any mission associated with you, homie.

  • You could always cook this cake for Kwanzaa. http://youtu.be/we2iWTJqo98

  • naturalista88

    Teachers at my elementary school would have us perform little skits and plays about Kwanzaa, they would even take us to see plays about Kwanzaa. As I got older, I realized just how much of a red-headed stepsister it is to the other holidays. Ah well, such is life I guess.

  • You had me at “Jesus was a Crip” *slain*

  • Justmetheguy

    lol, yeah it always happens like that. The newest traditions that get created out of thin air never get the respect of the ancient folklore and fairytale. Is what it is. I’ll be taking the route of teaching my kids about their Afro-American and African roots throughout the rest of the year. No need to worry about it during Christmas time. I’m not even a Christian but the materialistic ass holiday that it is has brought me many pleasant memories. Nostalgia for Christmas won’t let me celebrate Kwanza…though when I really sit and think about how weird it is for us to tell our kids that the gifts we buy for them that we worked so hard to earn the extra money to afford because we love them were actually provided by an old fat white man that travels the world (in one night) breaking into people’s houses just to give presents without leaving a bill…..Yeah it’s actually weirder than Kwanza when you think about the fairy tales it presupposes lol. But it gives you that warm and loving feeling when you hear the carols, see family you haven’t seen all year, and eat good food while watching NFL AND NBA. So I’ll give Christmas and its ridiculousness a pass #shruglife

  • Kwanzaa is lame as are all the play pretend motherland people who celebrate it. I know Black people want to feel connected to Africa is some capacity and most of us can’t, but let’s not do that by pretending Africa is a monolithic culture and pick random positive attributes that are vaguely associated with it out of hat and say you’re paying homage. That’s a long as sentence.

  • blknchina

    Well. One point that is left out about Karenga’s crazed torturing ass rejecting Christmas was the restoration of legitimate belief system that hadn’t been hijacked by capitalisms commercialism.
    Americans (Westerners) and an increasing portion of the world population is being brainwashed by corporate entities to consume at rates that are economically unrealistic for most people.
    There was an article yesterday on vsb which jokingly implied that since men were bound to be broke after holiday shopping they should take their interests out to do other cheaper things.
    It’s a popular concept and everyone laughs because they can relate. However, what is the purpose of spending ridiculous amounts of your income of which you’ve slaved and saved all year for one day? Who remembers all the Christmas gifts they are given and or received? Isn’t the supposed generous spirit that Christmas creates around all the time!?
    When there are natural disasters, famines and wars we don’t always see an equal distribution of generosity, but there are those of us who help all the time, regardless of the season.
    There is nothing wrong with Kwanzaa, though I choose not to celebrate it for my own technical reasons (long story short- Diaspora africans are of west african descent, not east so wth does swahilli have to do with black americans? also swahili is a mix of arabic and local tanzanian language that was used in the other east african slave trade to the arab states.). Also, Kwanzaa is not a celebration in Africa. Africans have a community. Its called Africa. Kwanzaa was intended for those in diaspora to connect and better understand their roots and yes it is in fact a much better option than celebrating Christmas as a black person in America. AA’s have given too much to this country without so much as a muthafin’ thank you. I would love to see the day when we can get together and show our strength by abstaining for absent minded commercialism which is the bulk of Christmas celebrations in this country. or your country. cause I’m in china biotches.

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