Monday, December 18, 2017

Excerpts From & Comments About The 2012 Washington Post Article "Confessions of a Kwanzaa drop-out: Why I don’t celebrate the holiday"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post quotes excerpts from the 2012 Washington Post newspaper article entitled "Confessions of a Kwanzaa drop-out: Why I don’t celebrate the holiday" By Kathryn O'Neal

This post also quotes selected comments from that article's discussion thread.

The content of this post is presented for socio-cultural purposes.

I showcase excerpts of online articles and their comments to raise awareness of these articles/comments. I encourage you to read the entire article and its discussion whose link is given below.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Click the Kwanzaa tab for more pancocojams posts about this African American originated holiday.

From "Confessions of a Kwanzaa drop-out: Why I don’t celebrate the holiday"
By Kathryn O'Neal December 13, 2012

"...Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. Currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University (Long Beach), Karenga created the holiday “to introduce and reinforce seven basic values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing family, community and culture among African American people as well as Africans throughout the world African community,” according to The Official Kwanzaa Web Site The seven core principles of Kwanzaa, which are represented through candles lit during the holiday, are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

When I became a mother, I was committed to making Kwanzaa a family tradition. In a world that rarely acknowledges the resilience, grace and ingenuity of African-descendents, for me, Kwanzaa represented an opportunity to hold our strengths up to the light.

J and I faithfully celebrated Kwanzaa from the time he was an infant until he was about 10. Each year, we lit the seven candles, discussed the principles, threw on our Kwanzaa CD and read Kwanzaa children’s books. We hosted special dinners and brunches. Friends came over. Music played, and people danced. Kwanzaa was so big in our house when J was little that he thought it was a national holiday, celebrated by all.


We gradually stopped celebrating because (a) I forgot when it was, (b) we were traveling, and I forgot the candles, or (c) blah blah blah. Basically, I was too busy to celebrate my culture for just one small week. What had things come to?


When J was little, I wanted to teach him about the importance of his culture and significance of our contributions to humanity. For the mother of a 5-year-old, singing songs and lighting candles were a great way to illustrate that. However, now I have a critically-thinking, intellectual teenager who is more interested in facts about African American inventors than nursery songs about creativity. More interested in reason than ritual.


J, now 13, has his own thoughts on Kwanzaa. Noting that most African Americans can’t pinpoint our African origins and that African culture is vastly diverse, he argues that it is inaccurate for African Americans to celebrate our “African” heritage as if it were a monolithic entity.

But J’s argument for not celebrating Kwanzaa is precisely why we need Kwanzaa in some form. African Americans need to learn more about the vast diversity of African culture as well as learning about the richness of our history in America.

Thus, I have now, consciously decided not to celebrate Kwanzaa this year. Not because we don’t have time. And not because I won’t be able to find the principles on my smartphone while we are hiking in the mountains this holiday. I have decided not to celebrate it for the exact same reason I decided to celebrate it when J was a baby.


When we actively celebrated Kwanzaa, I often relied on the concepts as set forth in “Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.” This 2095-page tome addresses many topics pertaining to black life and history. Inspired by the dream of the late African American historian W.E.B. Du Bois and edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Africana is possibly the first scholarly encyclopedia to focus on the history of Africa and the African diaspora.

Thinking of my son and my reason for celebrating Kwanzaa, I realize that if I want to teach him something, I will have to actually, literally teach him. Rather than cracking open the Kwanzaa section of the Africana in order to quickly glimpse that day’s principle, lighting some candles and calling it quits, my son and I will now start reading the Africana together. Through this, we will celebrate our culture and our heritage. No frills. No Kente tablecoth. But the goal is the same, and perhaps even more precisely achieved.

Happy Kwanzaa!"

I've numbered these comments for referencing purposes only.
1. Chuckaluck
12/26/2012 7:50 AM EST
"Kwanzaa over the years has lost popularity probably for some of the same reasons stated in the article and it was actually invented by a college professor. so it's not an actual African holiday or celebration. You can practice the principles without Kwanzaa. I never embraced it myself. I don't think it's needed . Some people may need it because it's the only way some people will learn anything about the importance of history."

2. Theodore R. Johnson
12/20/2012 2:01 PM EST
"We have simply outgrown the need for Kwanzaa. The cultural pride that Kwanzaa allowed us to experience was necessary for a people going the Civil Rights Era. Today's African-Americans, however, don't have the same need or desire to view the world through a Pan-African lens or look elsewhere (like East Africa) for a cultural identity..."

3. Dennis L. Sheffield
12/21/2012 4:40 PM EST
"That statement could not be more further from the truth. I would only state you perhaps you would need to look at the statistical data of Black Folk in this country, especially our youth. You used the words "outgrown the need" I beg to differ. In light of just last week (12/2012) a Louisiana Journalist was fired because she wanted to express her heritage by wearing a short Afro hairstyle; NO THE NEED IS VERY MUCH ALIVE!!!!

4. FaraJi
12/13/2012 2:14 PM EST
"First let me apologize for having to break this comment up into 7 parts. Comment can only be made in 1000 character blocks."

5. FaraJi
12/13/2012 2:14 PM EST
"Part 1:Kathryn, Thanks, I appreciate you sharing your experience about Kwanzaa. Mine has been somewhat the same. Like you, I started celebrating Kwanzaa while a student in college a Sacramento City College. At the time I was living with my son’s mother who also had two other children. I was the president of the BSU and later chair of the ASG (African Study Group), we co-sponsored several public community Kwanzaa celebration, with other community groups. I also celebrated it with my family at home and we had the then Sacramento Union newspaper come to my home to take picture of us all dress in our real African outfits sitting around the Kwanzaa display, with my step son lighting the candle. I was Mr. Kwanzaa during those days. But I’ve back slid a little in my later years, but I never forget what Kwanzaa represent in the context of African history; I remember the seven principles; I remember the days it’s celebrates; and all the symbols used to decorate and set up the display."

6. FaraJi
12/13/2012 2:13 PM EST
"Part2: I keep my Kwanzaa handbook nearby when doing the Libation statement and some other events during the Karamu (feast). Some years I put up my display and send some cards, and cook a dinner, but not every year. At this point Kwanzaa is in my heart and mind, and I have an alternative to the twisted Christmas celebration that mixed up religion and Santa, and encourage me to spend all my money to feel good, and leave me strapped with debt after the New Years. As to the issues you had with your son, as he grew up, I experienced the same with our kids as they grew up and had other things on their minds. You have to understand that today people are so influenced by TV and advertisement and Kwanzaa isn’t all over TV like Christmas, Hanukah, and other holidays. So you have to work a little harder to stick with Kwanzaa. Everyone who celebrate Kwanzaa or any other holiday, does so in their own ways. If you still value what Kwanzaa stands for, then you are celebrating Kwanzaa"

7. FaraJi
12/13/2012 2:13 PM EST
"Part 3: Remember Karenga pointed out the seven principals are year-round principals. So once we get them down and internalize them, then we don’t have to worry about all the symbolism. So what you are doing now, I think is just fine, maybe the time will come again when you’ll put on a big Kwanzaa Celebration. And remember, sometimes the things you teach your children when they are small, don’t take real effect until they are adults trying to figuring out who they really are. When they go from child to teenager, usually they rebel, not because what you say is bad or not good, but simply because they are trying to find their own identity. So keep the faith in Kwanzaa. It’s worth it. One thing you said I want to comment on specifically, you said: “Noting that most African Americans can’t pinpoint our African origins and that African culture is vastly diverse, he argues that it is inaccurate for African Americans to celebrate our “African” heritage as if it were a monolithic entity.” "

8. FaraJi
12/13/2012 2:13 PM EST
"Part 4: My understanding of Kwanzaa is it does not suggest that African heritage is a monolithic entity whether is or not. Believe me, if anyone know of the diversity of African culture, Dr. Karenga knows more than any other. The problem most of us African-Americans have in connecting with our culture is we know so little about it, and we have been “educated”, brainwashed, conditioned, whatever you want to call it, to like other’s culture over our own---and we have some current day whites running interference by putting down Kwanzaa and trying to tell us who or what is black or who should speak for us, and tell us what we should call ourselves. But Kujichagulia gives us Self-Determination. Christmas don’t tell us that. Therefore, when someone like Dr. Karenga present us with something that he’s researched and extracted from our own culture, we tend to reject it because it is so unfamiliar. That’s human nature."

9. FaraJi
12/13/2012 2:12 PM EST
"Part 5: I’m from Mississippi, traditionally the last state in everything, especially in black culture awareness. But while in college in Sacramento, I obtain a degree (took about 15 doses (as in mental medicine) of Black and African history and cultural studies. Given all I’ve learned about Africa, mostly in my own study, I can tell you, at some levels you could say African culture is near monolithic, and it is not just in the bad thing. I think you can safely say, nearly all traditional African people are most demonstrative in their music and dance. You can see similarities in foods in certain areas, if not everywhere. You can say the same, at a certain level, about any of the world racial groups. For example, most of us are familiar with Chinese New Year. But do most people know that, at a certain ways, Asian culture is near monolithic, because other Asian countries have similar celebrations akin to Chinese New Year."

10. FaraJi
12/13/2012 2:12 PM EST
"Part 6: During traditional times in Africa, people in African villages, were agricultural people, celebrated what can be call harvest festivals. This festival in addition to being about gathering up the crops, it was about sharing harvest, but also marked the end and beginning of a new year. Karenga took this basic activity and concept of the harvest festival and created a Pan-African holiday for a modern non-agricultural African people, mostly living in the U.S. Christmas, the Santa version originated in one place, but is celebrated throughout Europe and the West. So, why can’t the same apply to Kwanzaa. In creating the holiday in a Pan-African spirit, Us (Urban Survival) and Karenga used the Swahili language terms because it was the widest spoken native African language. In conclusion, those of us who have a true Pan-African approach or attitude to Africa and Africans rejoice in the accomplishments of and feel the pain of African people everywhere, in and outside Africa."

11. FaraJi
12/13/2012 2:12 PM EST
"Part 7: Likewise we feel comfortable sharing things specific to one or another African group, as if it were our own; and we encourage other African to fellowship with us in our (whatever African people I am) creations. We need to learn love, respect and encourage each other and listen with a large grain of salt to anything a white person say that put down something involving black. We should always know who is the Black or African authorities and others authorities on the subject, then research and read what they have to say about the subject, before believing someone who’s uninformed or just hating.

FaraJi GoreDenna"

12. Grob Hahn
12/17/2012 10:42 AM EST
"ALL holidays have an origin. Why would a 20th century origin weigh any less than a 12th century origin for a holiday? It's the people who give a holiday meaning. I fail to understand why this holiday would be at the beginning of winter though. That might have been something that was debated a bit more. But otherwise I think the creation of this ethnic and American holiday was a brilliant move that has great potential for unifying. Like the MMM, it may take some time for everyone to get on board with the reason for the season.

13. Johnnie A
12/14/2012 11:51 AM EST
"Your main problem is not whether to celebrate Kwanzaa or not its HOW you're celebrating it. The cultural holiday is communal. If you are relying on just you and your son (as a family) to practice it, you are missing the point. In most urban cities, there are Kwanzaa Celebrations held at community centers ( at least there are in cities like Oakland, Philly, Detroit, NYC, Chicago, etc) ... You see, we've been so indoctrinated into Western, individual-centered thinking, we focus on what the holiday will give us.. but thats backwards.. Kwanzaa is about the whole "village" coming together to celebrate the "first fruits." Its hard to do this sitting at a table in room with just you and your son. Kwanzaa is about the not a religious holiday but a cultural celebration of the Black Family.. period."

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