What Kwanzaa Means to Black Americans | Way of life
On December 26, millions of people in the African community around the world [began] Kwanzaa week celebrations. There will be daily ceremonies with food, decorations and other cultural items, like the kinara, which contains seven candles. In many Kwanzaa ceremonies there are also African drums and dances.
It’s a time of community assertiveness – when famous black heroes and heroines, as well as deceased family members – are celebrated.
As a scholar who has written about racially motivated violence against blacks, run black cultural centers on college campuses, and sponsored many Kwanzaa celebrations, I understand the importance of this holiday.
For the African American community, Kwanzaa is not just any âblack partyâ. It is a recognition that knowledge of black history is worthwhile.
History of Kwanzaa
Maulana Karenga, a renowned black American scholar and activist created Kwanzaa in 1966. Its name is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, the most widely spoken African language. However, Kwanzaa, the party, did not exist in Africa.
Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to the celebration of the seven fundamental values ââof African culture or “Nguzo Saba” which in Swahili means the seven principles. These are translated: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economy (creating black businesses), purpose, creativity and faith. A candle is lit each day to celebrate each of these principles. On the last day, a black candle is lit and gifts are shared.
Today, Kwanzaa is very popular. It is widely celebrated on college campuses, the U.S. Postal Service issues Kwanzaa Stamps, there is at least one municipal park that bears his name, and there are special Kwanzaa greeting cards.
The meaning of Kwanzaa for the black community
Kwanzaa was created by Karenga from the turbulent 1960s in Los Angeles, after the 1965 Watts riots, when a young African American was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, which led to an outbreak of violence.
Subsequently, Karenga founded an organization called Us – that is, Blacks – which promoted black culture. The purpose of the organization was to provide a platform that would help rebuild the neighborhood of Watts thanks to a strong organization rooted in African culture.
Karenga called his creation an act of cultural discovery, which simply meant that he wanted to bring African Americans to more knowledge of their African heritage and past.
Rooted in the civil rights struggles and conquests and black power movements of the 1950s and 1960s, it was a way of defining a unique black American identity. Like Keith A. Mayes, specialist in African-American history, note in his book,
âTo black power activists, Kwanzaa was just as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kwanzaa was their response to what they saw as the pervasive white cultural practices that oppressed them as deeply as the Jim Crow laws.
Reversing the definitions of white
Today, the party now occupies a central role, not only in the United States but also in the global African diaspora.
A 2008 documentary, “The black candle” who filmed Kwanzaa celebrations in the United States and Europe, shows children not only in the United States, but as far away as in France, reciting the principles of the Nguzo Saba.
The black candle ‘
He brings the black community together not on the basis of its religious faith, but of a shared cultural heritage. Explaining the importance of vacations for African Americans today, the writer Amiri Baraka, said in an interview in the documentary,
âWe saw Kwanzaa as part of the struggle to overturn white definitions of our lives. “
Indeed, from the early years of the holiday, until today, Kwanzaa has provided many black families with tools to teach their children on their African heritage.
Current activism and Kwanzaa
This spirit of activism and pride in African heritage is evident in the Kwanzaa celebrations on the university campus, which I recently attended. (This was done a few days earlier so that the students on break could participate.)
The speaker, a veteran of the Nashville civil rights movement, referred to Kwanzaa as a time of remembrance and celebration. Dressed in an African dashiki, he led those present – Black and White and those of other ethnicities – in Kwanzaa chants and recitations. On a table decorated with kente cloth, a traditional African cloth, was a kinara, which contains seven holes, to correspond to the seven principles of Kwanzaa. There were three red candles on the left side of the kinara and three green candles on the right side of the kinara. The central candle was black. The colors of the candles represent the red, black and green of the liberation flag of Africa.
The auditorium was packed. Those in attendance, young and old, black and white, held hands and chanted slogans celebrating black heroes and heroines, as diverse as civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jamaican musician Bob Marley.
It was a cultural celebration that recognized solidarity with the struggles of the past and with each other. Like the black power movements, like the one today Black Lives Matter movement, it is an affirmation of “the humanity of blacks”, of their “contributions to this society” and of “resilience in the face of deadly oppression”.
Karenga wanted to “reaffirm the links between us” (the blacks) and counter the damage caused by the “holocaust of slavery”. Kwanzaa celebrations are a time of this awareness and reflection.
Frank E. Dobson, Jr. is Associate Dean of Students, Social Justice and Identity at Vanderbilt University. Dobson published two novels, The race is not given and Rendered Invisible: Stories of Blacks and Whites, of Love and of Death. He has also published short fiction films as well as academic work on black literature and culture, particularly cinema. He has published articles on filmmaker Spike Lee as well as actor Woody Strode.
This article originally appeared on The conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons license.