On my cosplay page on Facebook, I was simply replying to a random German fan about what holidays I was celebrating, and since it was the day after Christmas, I responded that I was celebrating a holiday called Kwanzaa. He proceeded to ask what Kwanzaa was, since he did not know, and I proceeded to tell him that it is a cultural holiday. It is celebrated by some African Americans, not all, but some, not created in Africa, but in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights Era by a professor at a university.
He then brought up that he hopes that whites are not excluded from the celebration. I stated that whites nor anyone else is excluded from celebrating Kwanzaa, but that Kwanzaa would have little to no significance for white people. Kwanzaa isn’t even a holiday that is widely celebrated by African Americans in the first place. There are plenty of African Americans who know little to nothing about the holiday. It is a very young holiday. Kwanzaa is barely 50+ years old, and it was created nor does it derive from the homeland.
I’m all for inclusion. I’m all for multiculturalism. I’m all for diversity.
At the same time, I understand the importance of safe spaces and spaces where certain sacred rituals, ceremonies and cultural practices can be done among the people of a certain cultural, ethnic or religious background.
Those spaces need to be and ought to be respected and I believe that Kwanzaa is one of those Black spaces.
If there are white people present at a Kwanzaa ceremony, I’m not offended or uncomfortable, even though I would just find it strange and unlikely for them to be there, considering it has little to no significance for them, but I would still welcome them with open arms as long as they were respectful.
But what I am bothered by is this constant push and insistence from certain white people to be included in every single facet of society.
No culture or ethnic group or group of anything specific gets the elitist right to be involved and included in every single thing.
And perhaps as a black woman that’s a much easier pill to swallow than for someone who is used to being able to be included in most if not all things, or at the very least, insist on the right that they should be able to.
And for anyone who argues that there are no safe spaces or sacred white spaces for which only whites are allowed or welcomed, they are highly mistaken.
Yes, even despite all of our societal progression to be inclusive and diverse, white people are the majority of the population and still do hold high positions of power and financial access to isolate certain areas for the rich Caucasian class.
So to me, I had no problem with this particular person asking his questions, but it is quite annoying that almost every time anything is created for African American CELEBRATION mind you, not a white people bashing party, radical “let’s burn down the city” riot party or some hood rachet “shoot em’up” fest, but rather a celebration of very wholesome, empowering moral principles, that somehow that’s in question.
There is still an existing fear that any congregation of minorities is a threat to the system. In some ways it is because it’s a collective of intelligent thought, financial potluck, creative brainstorm and empowering encouragement.
I should never, ever forget the laws that existed that banned congregation of black folk in the past.
Furthermore there’s also this existing idea that if events are created without the inclusion or help of white people what good can come from them and how successful can they be? These thoughts exist because there is a belief that without white people’s help minorities are lowly lost lemmings who cannot create, think or progress themselves.
And for that reason alone it’s enough reason to create self-governing celebrations, events, communions and rituals for the empowerment and unity of a group. We are more than capable of doing for ourselves but as minorities, unless you live in a cluster of minorities we are too often separated from one another, and we do not have frequent opportunities to commune and create and build. That collective power makes a major difference in our communities.
But I also think of cultural events that I have participated in that were outside of my culture, and I never pushed for my inclusion and participated with invitation.
It’s rude and intrusive to just assume and walk in on a cultural ethnic ceremony, ritual or celebration. I don’t mean that a person can’t choose to attend a Chinese New Year celebration, for example, without having a Chinese friend to invite them. That’s more of an open party than a closed event, but something like a Jewish sader meal perhaps, would warrant an invitation.
And for all I know, I am not a Chinese person, so there may be Chinese people who would prefer their celebrations to be more closed and more Chinese than they have become. At my HBCU DSU we had a Chinese New Year Celebration every year. I attended for 4 years and performed several times. Although the show was poorly advertised, the university was welcome to join, and over the years, more African American students participated.
I did a special performance where I read a Chinese poem (because I was learning Mandarin at the time) while my Chinese international friend read the poem in English, to the best of his abilities. We both had accents when we read, but we practiced before hand, so that we could be understood. I first read in English, then he read in Chinese. We stood at opposite ends of the stage. Then, my idea was to meet in the middle, shake hands, change places, and then I read the poem in Chinese and he read the poem in English. We got a roaring round of applause. I even wore my beautiful blue cheongsam (a traditional Chinese dress) and he wore a traditional western suit and tie. Even our clothes represented a cultural exchange.
There will always and forever be debates about these kinds of topics:
Who is allowed at what events and why?
Are you only allowed if invited, or only allowed to certain places up until a point?
I know that on my Native American mission trip in Arizona, that there are certain places we are welcomed to go, however there are certain places considered sacred, and only allowed for Navajo entry.
I not only do not feel offended by that denied entry, but I feel rather grateful that I am allowed to enter anywhere on Navajo land period, considering the awful, tragic history of the wicked genocide that occurred to the Native Americans after having given open arms to strangers.
I think that one must consider history. History is important. Knowledge of history helps one to understand a people, their behaviors, their openness and closedness. It helps to understand why certain things are held sacred, and why certain things are done as tradition.
I say all this to say that Kwanzaa is a remembrance. It helps us to remember our roots, give us a sense of self. Many African Americans were denied access to anything involved with their African culture, and some are trying to reach back and regain that loss through practices such as Kwanzaa. It is not the Black Christmas or Black Hanukkah. It’s not a replacement, but an addition. One can celebrate all three if they so desire.
I myself, did not grow up celebrating Kwanzaa, but my sister who became very interested in it, began introducing it to my family three years ago. Now we practice it with her, at first reluctantly, but now we accept it each year.
I was reluctant because all I knew was that it was a made up holiday, so in the beginning, it held no significance for me. However, when I saw how much it meant to my sister, I though it was worth exploring, and the principles are indeed very honorable, helpful important. I will list them down below. So to all of those celebrating and or participating in Kwanzaa this year, please enjoy it. Habari Ghani!
And if you are a non African American celebrating, welcome, all I ask is that you respect the sacred space.
Kwanzaa 7 Principles:
- The Nguzo Saba of the seven days of Kwanzaa:
- Day 1. Umoja means unity.
- Day 2. Kujichagulia means self-determination.
- Day 3. Ujima means working together.
- Day 4. Ujamaa means supporting each other.
- Day 5. Nia means purpose.
- Day 6. Kuumba means creativity.
- Day 7. Imani means faith, especially faith in ourselves.