In the days leading up the Christmas, one couldnâ€™t help but notice that references to Kwanzaa, the decades-old African-American holiday that captured so many dull minds during the Great Culture Wars of the 1990s, were almost nonexistent. Kwanzaa, an afrocentic celebration of black self-reliance (or something) that so spooked the â€œwar on Christmasâ€ types, has largely disappeared. Back in the day, its champions and criticsÂ alike thought it could potentially replace Christmas in the very Christian African-American community.
But now, silence.
Does anyone remember that back in the early 1990s, AT&T ran television ads suggesting that blacks call their families during Kwanzaa using their telephone service? That stores stocked Kwanzaa candles andÂ kente clothes? ThatÂ student unions were festooned with Marcus Garvey’s pan-African flag? In 1995, a local activist triumphantly told The Boston Globe, “We’re at the point now where Kwanzaa has gotten so big that we feel like Santa Claus is really on the way out.”
Or take this 2004Â item from the conservative website Newsmax, lamenting that a “Stroll through your local card and party store and you’ll find Kwanzaa items…Check out almost any appointment calendar and you’ll find it duly noted on December 26 that â€˜Kwanzaa begins.'” And it was pretty amazing to watch nervous college administrators and city employees create space for a holiday that few blacks had ever heard of. And it was, when one bothered to figure out just what constituted a specifically African-American holiday, amusing to see that it was a monumentally stupid hybrid of Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Franz Fanon.
From the Maoist calls for the celebration of “collective work and responsibility,” “collective vocation [of] building and developing of our community,” and the festive promise to engage in “cooperative economics,” to the astoundingly banal calls for “creativity” and the admonitions “to believe with all our heart in our people,” the principles of Kwanzaa were stuck in the failed revolutionary movements of the 1960s and weren’t particularly appealing to 21st-century black youth. When reading these boring, mildly cultish, and utterly dreary moral instructions, it’s easy to see why Kwanzaa failed as spectacularly as Tony Martin’s academic career.