Sunday, December 28, 2008

Not all blacks are Swahili

I have mixed feelings on Kwanzaa. On the one hand, I find genuine appeal in the seven principles (unity, self-determination, community, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith) that guide the holiday. On the other hand, I don't like the fact that it's tacked onto Christmas, as if black people aren't allowed to celebrate with Santa Claus and/or Jesus. I also don't care for the fact that it promotes Africans as one people. To me, that is as careless as identifying everyone from India to Japan as "Asian." Obviously, "African-Americans" (black people who trace their ancestors to the European-North American slave trade) do not know which people they come from. Their ancestors were stripped of their identity when they were brought to American shores. That doesn't mean people should just pick what they want.

For example, I can trace my ancestry back four out of five ways. The fifth aspect of my genetic make up is a mystery. We know my grandmother's father lived in Canada, but we don't know where his family came from. They were not forthcoming with the information, and apparently no one back then cared to ask. All we know for sure is that he came from Europe. That doesn't mean I get to pick which part of Europe he's from. It's not like a grab bag. "Ooh, what shall I choose? Scotland? Belgium? Czech Republic or whatever the hell it was back then? I've always liked Austria." It doesn't work that way.

The Jews have Chanukah because it is part of their rich and diverse history, something they have celebrated and identified with for centuries. Sure, they added the presents over the years to create a healthy competition with the more glamorous Christmas, but it is still a cultural staple. Kwanzaa is not. Kwanzaa starts at skin color and tries to work backwards, creating something out of a vague idea, that all African Americans share a common ancestral background. Africa was a continent of vast, sprawling, diverse - and sometimes competing - empires, with a heavy Islamic influence to the north. Africa today stands as a continent of 61 territories speaking over 1,000 indigenous languages. To clump all of that into one general theme is ridiculous.


scarlet-blue said...

I think I ought to read some more books...

Gorilla Bananas said...

Yes, they should all do what Alex Haley and the Comets did and find their Kunte Kinte.

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chuckling said...

I generally agree, but it would take a federal holiday for me to fully embrace Kwanzaa. One could argue that we're all originally from Africa, so it doesn't have to be exclusive. That would teach those separationists (what exactly, I'm not sure).

And one could argue that nearly all black Africans speak a language from a single language group, almost all of them some form of Bantu, so it's not entirely crazy to note their cultural similarities.

Regarding your genes, I think the DNA test is down to under $200. Hold out a few years and you'll be able to get one done at the drugstore for under $10,000 ($20 in today's money).

ChrisV82 said...

Scarlet - Books are good food.

GB - I wonder what would happen if someone traced their family tree to Thulsa Doom.

SC - It's never good when your nickname isn't a compliment, like Duke Pinklewerry the Unreliable.

Chuck - If Kwanza was a federal holiday and I got a week off from work, I'd be wearing a dashiki and quoting...Michelle Obama? Apparently she is the number one black separationist, according to a Google search.