Kwanzaa and Christianity
“Joyous Kwanzaa.” Holidays reveal our deepest cultural values. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, all reveal the deep underlying values of their celebrants. In past blogs, I’ve tried to reclaim the biblical roots of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays: (http://jesusforrevolutionaries.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-revolutionary-thanksgiving reflection.html)
I’ve tried to disentangle the western cultural bias from these important holidays in a way that is biblical, and in a manner which is faithful to my conscience as a follower of Jesus. I hope that I have been able to do this. If I have fallen short in any of these respects, I take full credit for the mistakes and pray that God will help me to see things with greater clarity.
Kwanzaa reveals the deep cultural values of its 2 million adherents. It was established in 1966 by California State University, Long Beach professor, Dr. Maulana Karenga.
According to the website “African Holocaust”:
“Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, which is profound because it reclaims what was lost during the African Holocaust—that sense of an African connection. It replies to the ongoing mental slavery experienced from the Diaspora being culturally orphaned in the West.
Kwanzaa is an authentic African Holiday created in the African Diaspora. It is becoming part of traditional African American, and African diaspora cultural heritage. All holidays have the roots somewhere, and Kwanzaa is an indigenous African American creation… “
The seven principles of Kwanzaa, or “Nguzo Saba,” include:
“Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves stand up.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.”
Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”
At the center of Kwanzaa is a deeply admirable sense of African cultural pride, and an abiding interest in social justice for the African diasporic community. Kwanzaa rightly recognizes that African Americans possess an important and distinct cultural heritage flowing from Africa. It also provides a meaningful philosophy of socio-economic and political empowerment for the African American community which continues to experience the detrimental effects of historical and contemporary racism in the United States.
As an “Asian-Latino,” I can closely identify with Kwanzaa because of the ways in which my Asian and Latino cultures are often belittled in the media and mainstream culture. Kwanzaa also resonates with me because my Asian and Latino communities also continue to experience the lingering effects of historical and contemporary racism in the United States.
As a follower of Jesus, however, what saddens me about Kwanzaa is the fact that it is a reaction to 500 years of historical misrepresentation of Christianity. Western imperialism and colonization destroyed the global witness of Christianity. Starting with Columbus in 1492, and well into the 20th century, numerous European nations, together with the United States, went around and ravaged the globe. They used their superior military power to conquer almost every nation in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas. As part of this colonial rampage, tragically, more than 12 million Africans were enslaved as part of the African Holocaust. To make matters worse, most, if not all of these western nations claimed to be “Christian.” This historical misrepresentation of Christianity is what Kwanzaa rebels against.
The destruction caused by colonialism was not limited to some time in the distant past. We still feel the terrible consequences of imperialism in the United States and in most nations of the developing world. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans continue to experience extraordinary levels of poverty in the United States and to live in communities that are even more segregated than 50 years ago. Our families and children continue to suffer from unequal public education systems, lack of affordable housing and healthcare, police brutality, unequal justice in the courts, and pervasive racist stereotypes. Racist socio-economic, legal, and political institutions persist in Latin America, and harmful legacies of colonialism are alive throughout Africa. Even HIV/AIDS, the most deadly pandemic of our time is said to have gotten its start during the British colonization of Africa.
As a result of the religious arrogance and social devastation associated with imperialism, millions of people of color throughout the globe have condemned Christianity over the past five centuries as a “white man’s, colonizer’s religion.” “If this is what Christianity is all about,” they say, “then why would I ever want to be a Christian?” “Why would I want to celebrate Christmas?”
This devastates me. It devastates me because I know that western imperialism was a complete misrepresentation of Jesus and all that Christianity, and Christmas, represent. As clearly articulated in more than 2,000 verses of the Bible, God is the author of Justice, and He cares for the poor and marginalized and oppressed more than we could ever hope for or imagine. Jesus came, “to bring Good News to the poor…to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18). This is what I celebrate this Christmas.
Robert Chao Romero@ProfeChaoRomero Follow this blog on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/JesusForRevolutionaries