Friday, 28 December 2012

Do We Still Need Kwanzaa? Definitely Yes!

Do We Still Need Kwanzaa? Definitely Yes!

by Kwaku

Was it a case of serendipity that on the day I received email of another African American history professor’s brush with the police, and started my as yet unfinished email to the founder of Kwanzaa, Dr Maulana Karenga, I should chance on a HuffPost article on Kwanzaa, that I just had to respond to?

The article in question is a recent HuffPost Black Voices co-ed by former White House fellow Theodore Johnson entitled 'Do WeStill Need Kwanzaa?' Although I don't celebrate Kwanzaa, neither do I celebrate Christmas, birthdays etc.

As much as Johnson tries to be balanced, I do not agree with his main argument. Which is that African Americans have now achieved in a post-Civil Rights era - they've made it into the middle classes, they occupy positions of leadership in the public and corporate spheres, and even occupy the White House, and that they ought to see themselves more as American, and less as African. Hence Kwanzaa is a celebration where its sell-by date is almost up, if it hasn’t already expired.

It would seem segregation and discrimination have been kicked to the curb, and African Americans are now getting their just share of the proverbial American Pie. Is that the reality for the majority of African-Americans?

For those who think they've safely broken through the glass ceiling, and even with an African as the President, here is a warning or reminder: never mind the streets and ghettos, where the opportunities and civil rights of Africans who have not been able to pull themselves up the ladder are routinely trampled upon and who are herded into the criminal justice system as fodder. But what about the number of times we hear of educated, middle-class African Americans reminded of their “supposed place"?

What did one former American president, often described affectionately as a "black" President say about the then presidential hopeful Barack Obama? Something on the lines of a little while back, he would have been serving tea to Europeans, and now he has the temerity to run for president.

And Henry Louis Gates is not the only professor to wonder if the treatment he got from the police was simply because he was African, in spite of how far he'd come up the social and educational ladder. Earlier this year, a less celebrated professor of history and Africana studies Jahi Issa, author of ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Historically Black Colleges in the Age of Obama’, had a brush with the Delaware State University (DSU) police, which not only landed him in hospital with severe injuries, but he is also facing prosecution on charges including resisting arrest, offensive touching of a law enforcement officer, and inciting a riot at DSU, which could put him in prison for several years.

That's enough reason why, African Americans who choose to celebrate Kwanzaa ought to do so, in the solid belief that the raison d'ĂȘtre for Dr Karenga introducing it during the heady days of the 1960s Civil Rights struggles has not changed one iota. It’s nowhere near its sell-by date.

Just because some Africans have made it into high places – be they police or military officers, judges, mayors, senators, university professors, public company CEOs – good on them,  but don’t be fooled into believing it's a post-Civil rights, post-racial American society, and that it’s time to put away your African celebrations, like Kwanzaa. Hey, for those celebrating it, I’m moved to shout out: “Happy Kwanzaa”! 

Kwaku is the TAOBQ (The African Or Black Question) campaign co-ordinator.

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