An African Holiday is a Great Idea, But the Principles of Kwanzaa Suck

This article has become an annual tradition at Coyote Blog, I guess to make sure I start the new year with plenty of hate mail.

The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of themselves and their history is a good one.  The specific values celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck.  They are socialist -Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap.   Everyone seems to tiptoe around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because they are fearful of being called a racist.  However, I find it terrible to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the African-American community.  These values are nearly perfectly constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these
same values have played out in Africa.

First, understand that I have no problem with people of any ethnic group or race or whatever creating a holiday.  Life is worth celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new occasions. One of the great things about living in Arizona is getting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Second, understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition.  Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement.  Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:

Deborah Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

Interestingly, after this conviction as well incidents of schizophrenia in prison where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to
make him head of their Black Studies Department.

Anyway,  I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their history.  However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism.  Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by blacks.  Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red itallics):

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

On its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight Marxism and thoroughly racist.  Think about who else in the 20th century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.

In practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly criticize another black.  Don't believe me?  Look at the flack Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

Generally cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this.  When this was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more
revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's context I think it is fine.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and
sister's problems our problems and to solve them together

Um, do I even need to comment?  This is Marxism, pure and simple.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

OK, I said the last one was Marxism.  This one is really, really Marxism. 

Nia (Purpose)
make our collective vocation the building and developing of our
community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

There's that collectivism again

Kuumba (Creativity)
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.

I guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things better.  My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.

Imani (Faith)
believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers,
our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

What about in ourselves as individuals?  Through all of this, where is the individual, either individual responsibility or achievement?  It is interesting that a holiday that
was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as a value.  In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn
over our destiny and daily lives."

However, this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and totalitarians.  They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god, and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ... them, or other men.  This is in fact what this "faith" was about for Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the totalitarian state.  He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and daily lives to their leaders, not to god.

So, in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among African-Americans.  I may well get comments and emails that say "oh,
thats not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin and the Black Panthers were all wimps.

Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:

-Every individual is his own master.  We will never accept any other master again from any race (even our own).  We will speak out against injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.

Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family

Pride - We will be proud of our race and heritage.  We will learn about our past and about slavery in particular, so we will never again repeat it.

Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children

Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics

Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times

Thankfulness - Every African-American should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the slavery passage, suffered the indignity and humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the
post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than I would have been in Africa."

By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less.  Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations.  Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.

Update:  Even years later, commenters insist on misinterpreting this last point as some sort of justification for slavery.  I am not sure how one can come to this conclusion in an article that drips with disdain for slavery, but folks will find what they want to find.  My mistake perhaps was to presume to speak for African Americans.  It is very possible that the enslavement of their ancestors and the legacy of racist crap that still exists in this country is not balanced by the prosperity blacks now enjoy in America vs. Africa.  So I will merely speak for myself and say the rest of us are immeasurably better off for having you here.


  1. markm:

    Great essay.

    Might your links be getting outdated? I just got a 404 error on the "comparison of freedom" link.

  2. Smiley:

    Every Jewish-American should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the nazi concentration camps, suffered the unforgivable indignity and humiliation of anti-simitism, and suffered the poverty and injustices of post-world war II so that I, today, can be here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than I would have been in Germany."

    Every female-American should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my maternal ancestors suffered the horrors of the last 30,000 years, suffered the unforgivable indignity and humiliation of not being able to vote or be consider equal under the law until the 20th century, and suffered the poverty and injustices of being dependant on a man's whims for basic sustenance so that I, today, can be here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than I would have been at any other place and time in the history of the world."

    I give thanks for being raped repeatedly as a child so that, after a long continous battle with depression and suicidal ideation, I can leave this world knowing that the vast majority of people have sucked, do suck, and will continue to suck.

  3. poxy:

    this is a disgusting article. what's wrong with loving your brothers and sisters? how is that automatically communism? does communism have a claim of ownership on these ideas? if you are going to label someone, at least make sure they are vaguely fitting of the label. the man might have been crazy, but im sure he wasnt a communist, and calling him such only undermines your own stupidity. if your only guiding light in this world is love of money and the savage individualism, then go ahead and make that your priorities. but when you call other men communists for the mere act of talking about the collective spirit of mankind in a positive light, all you are really doing is using this man's villain-like status for an opportunity to present some pet ideology of yours as the direct anti-dote to whatever evil this man supposedly stands for.

  4. Garthnak:

    poxy, Karenga is an avowed socialist and Marxist from as far back as the 70's, so I don't really know why you're "sure he wasn't a communist" - he STILL IS a Communist! Nothing Coyote wrote about is "automatically" Communism - it IS Communism, because it was created by a Communist with (at least in part) Communist intentions. Granted that it's not as overt as, say, M&E's Manifesto - but it's still there. The phrase "cooperative economics" by itself is pretty much the dead give-away.

  5. Max:

    Well, it is easier not to recognize the German background, than fleeing from Kwanza. Since I am German and I have to deal with many people who think all Germans worship Hitler, I think it is no great loss that you are not interested in your background :)

  6. poxy:

    i just didnt like the way he took simple phrases that could have meant anything and directed his tirade against those. for exampe, what's wrong with this statement if you just read it on a bus or somewhere and didnt know it came from a self-proclaimed communist: "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." - honestly, what's so inherently evil about this? only once you turn it upside down and attach all sorts of meanings to it is when it becomes communist propaganda. and the funniest part is when the author of this tirade finds it necessary to list his guiding principles of life, and this is to counter some freakin lunatic that invented a holiday by the name of kwanzaa? come on, this is just ridiculous.

  7. XC-135:

    Coyote, u let me down with this post. Will come back again though. Don't disappoint me again. Think next time before posting. Please

  8. Garthnak:

    Look, poxy - Coyote is providing a service, in that he is reminding people of the historical origins of this holiday which many people have misconceptions about. By themselves, certain of the Kwanzaa traditions might not seem sinister to you - but in the larger contex that includes the intentions of the holiday's creators, they _do_ have this other, possibly less obvious meaning. Celebrated _correctly_, that is, according to Karenga, Kwanzaa is basically a holiday that represents extremist black nationalism combined with Marxist communism. It is portrayed in a simplistic form so that average families can celebrate it, but it really all boils down to a propaganda piece. And anyone who celebrates Kwanzaa without knowing it's full history has been misled and deserves to know more of this information.

    And XC-135 - who exactly are you to dictate the contents of Coyote's blog? Is there some particular reason he should respect _your_ wishes above anyone else's? I for one enjoyed the post. If Coyote "disappoints" you with any particular post - hey, you're free not to read it!

  9. poxy:

    XC- 135, you would have a valid point if not for the fact that the author of this "valuable service" neatly provides a point-by-point expression of his guiding principles in life as a response to some crazy holiday propaganda. why couldnt he just say that it was crazy marxist propaganda disguised as a holiday and end it at that? do you see where im coming from?

  10. Macker:

    A long time ago, my brother-in-law referred to Kwanzaa as the "N*gg*r Christmas." While I do not agree with that sentiment, I DO agree that Kwanzaa is Marxism at its core, and its creator, a convicted felon, is trying to "redeem" himself in the eyes of his peers, kinda like what the late, great Tookie Williams tried to do with the children's books.

  11. Cobb:

    The forty hour workweek was the creation of socialists and commies. Sometimes commies have good ideas. Nevertheless I defy anyone to find five blogs on the web that celebrate kwanzaa and are politically marxist. Kwanzaa is no more Marxist than the Democratic party.

    What astounds me about all of this anti-kwanzaa bs is the extent to which you have to depend on Ann Coulter and other biased reporters to suggest what evil is being done in America by it. If it weren't for Coulter's disinformation, none of you would even think of it. Why? Because, Kwanzaa in the proper context is firstly not political and secondly an intimate occasion with family and friends. There isn't an American Kwanzaa Party, or Think Tank or Lobby. There are essentially no political anything done on behalf of Kwanzaa or Kawaida.

    I find it a poor reflection on the character of a number of individuals that they would visit the sins of Karenga on the many American families who celebrate Kwanzaa and understand that values and rituals are not of the same species as political agendas and propaganda. They may have felt they have won a rhetorical battle, but they are only shouting in vain.

    I would gladly engage anyone via email or at my blog to put the rites and rationale of kwanzaa in proper perspective. That is what is sorely missing.
    The proper historical context for the creation of Kwanzaa is a decent exploration into the Black Arts Movement in Los Angeles and the rationale, purposes and results of Black Cultural Nationalism. I don't see any evidence here that people are up to that task - certainly not anyone who takes Coulter seriously, ie college educated people who actually think for themselves.

  12. nonewtaxes:

    Great piece on how the Kwanzaa principles have been implemented in Africa.

    It's just as Coyote describes, values perfectly constructed to keep blacks in poverty.

  13. TheMalau:

    I am African, living in the United States for my studies, and I have to say that I am appaled by this post.

    That you wanted to remind people of something that most people who celebrate Kwanzaa know already (That it was a made-up holiday), that's perfectly alright with me. It's even good.

    Now, for you to condemn inherently African values as being pure Communism, I do not see your point. First of all, just because there might be some similarities between these values and Communist principles, does't make them less African. If you follow the cultural practices of most Bantu/Mandinka people, you will find that they often match many of these principles.

    Now I am not here to say that these principles are flawless and perfect. But within an envronment where most of the wealthy of the world (aka the West, US included) are intent on getting wealthier, generally on some other people's back, even if it means exploiting them shamelessly, destroying that people's culture, civilization and dignity, I can definitely see how one could feel cornered to think that cooperative economics within that people, and self-reliance, are the only solution. I have always said, and I will continue to say that if the West realized that they had some interest in the emancipation of black people, they would have let us in 1960. I mean you talk about AfAmericans having to thankful? Thankful to be healthier in a society that still treats them like second class citizens? Thankful to be in an environment where they have to justify every day, every rght that their ancestors fought so hard for them to have? Thankful for a society that called them 3/5 of a human? Hell no!!! The only thing they have to be thankful about, is to come from a resilient people that have given them the strength to weather all the excruciatingly vicious and cruel things that White people have been throwing at them, and continue to throw at them. That's something to be thankful for. I mean Coyote I normaly read your blog quite happily, but quel culot... I mean how dare you? I am normally a pretty moderate and relaxed guy about racial issues in this country, but you may have just changed that. Because you have just proven to me that White people still haven't understood their privilege, and the weight of their History. People in Africa live less well than African Americans? And whose fault is that? For 40 years we have had leaders that we were imposed by either side of the cold war. We were maintained in dictatorships for your stupid interests. You used us as pawns, and staging grounds for your proxy wars. You have contributed in regressing our standard of living for so long, fomented wars, ignited ethnic conflicts, and watched as a genocide occured, and you have the audacity t come and say that AfAmericans should be thankful? Thankful that White people, for their own selfish interests, have helped to reduce their motherland to poverty, better to be exploited? I mean are you seriously making this argument?

    Don't get me wrong, I do not absolve the bad leaders we have had. They have a geat deal of respnsibility in what is happening now. But I will ALWAYS hold accountable all those behind the door Westerners (and Soviets) that put them in power, against the people's will. So if you want to criticize people, look at your own History, your own people, and their misdeeds, And for Chrisakes, leave us alone if we choose to celebrate the dream that one day we can stand on our own, without opression, as an equal people among nations. Because contary to what you seem to think, we are still oppressed. And you proved it to me.

  14. gibson george:

    Just be grateful America allowed you in. If America was so evil, then how come every school boy girl I met in Nigeria wants to go and live in America.