Abolish Kwanzaa

how a holiday created by a LAPD-armed black nationalist and convicted torturer who advocated the genocide of all white people became mainstream
River Page

Kwanzaa. Wtf is it, even? From where does it come? And how has the average white person come under the absurd impression that black Americans, who are overwhelmingly Christian, celebrate this ‘ancient, sacred holiday,’ invented whole cloth several decades ago, now commemorated at the highest levels of our government? Buckle up for a Christmas treat. It’s a special delivery from River Page.

-Solana

From December 26th to January 1st of each year, some small percent of Americans claim to celebrate Kwanzaa, a holiday created in the 1960s as an alternative to Christmas for black Americans. Despite its niche status, even among the black population, politicians and the federal government have elevated it to be on equal footing with Christmas and Hannukah, ancient religious holidays that are far more widely practiced. In 1999, President Clinton released an official proclamation celebrating Kwanzaa, and since then, other presidents have done the same. Since 1997, the USPS has sold Kwanzaa stamps, and will release a new one in 2024. Last December, NYC mayor Eric Adams attended a dual Kwanzaa-Hannukah celebration at Carnegie Hall alongside the reverend Al Sharpton and rabbi Shmuley Boteach, among other high-profile guests. While these public displays of righteousness and allyship are notable and worth scrutinizing, this isn’t a story about elites performing for the press — it’s a story about manufactured multiculturalism, the FBI, and the mainstreaming of a holiday created by a LAPD-armed black nationalist and convicted torturer who advocated the genocide of all white people. 

On August 11, 1965, Los Angeles police pulled over a 21-year-old drunk driver and his brother. The driver, who was black, failed a field sobriety test. He resisted arrest, resulting in a fight between the two brothers, the police, and later, their mother. Amid the chaos, a crowd gathered, growing angry at what they perceived to be police brutality. Later, a woman who spat on police was dragged out of the crowd after resisting arrest. The crowd, mistakenly believing she was pregnant, became even angrier. That night, angry mobs of black Angelinos attacked motorists with rocks and bricks, pulling white drivers out of their cars and beating them. Over the next several days, the city became engulfed in a full-blown race riot. The ensuing violence, euphemistically called the “Watts Rebellion” by some writers today, caused 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, and $40 million in property damage. In its aftermath, a black graduate student named Ron Karenga (born Ronald Everett) established the black nationalist group he called the US Organization1. A year later, he invented Kwanzaa.

Karenga based the name of his holiday on the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, adding a second “a” to the word kwanza so it would have seven letters, in accordance with the seven principles of US that he’d come up with a year earlier. They are:

  1. Umoja (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. 
  1. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. 
  1. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and solve them together. 
  1. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  1. Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  1. Kuumba (Creativity): To do as much as we can, in the way that we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  1. 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.

On each of the seven days of Kwanzaa, one of these principles is celebrated, and its corresponding candle is lit on a “kinara” (Swahili for candle holder). Although Kwanzaa is based on a hodgepodge of different African harvest festivals, its similarities to Hanukkah are obvious. After all, Karenga’s first “kinara” was literally made from a broken menorah. This would be unremarkable if it weren’t for Karenga’s own personal hostility to Jews, and even Jesus. In urging black people to reject the “white man’s religion,” Karenga once said:

Jesus said, ‘My blood will wash you white as snow.’ Who wants to be white but sick ‘Negroes,’ or worse yet — washed that way by the blood of a dead Jew. You know if Nadinola bleaching cream couldn’t do it, no dead Jew’s blood is going to do it.

In the Quotable Karenga, a text supposedly written by a Karenga follower, but one which Karenga himself sold and regularly lectured on, the “anonymous author” writes: 

Maulana [Swahili for “teacher,” the title Karenga gave to himself] gave me an alternative to this white system. Now I don’t have to wear some shark snake I bought from a Jew, I can wear my ‘Buba.’ When I read the Seven Principles, I no longer have to want those stringy haired, colorless white women. Now I can look at them and say ‘get back devil.’ Every time I see a beautiful Black sister with a natural, and can appreciate her beauty, I say, ‘all praises due to Maulana.’ When I read the Seven Principles instead of the Ten Commandments I say ‘all praises to Maulana’.

Unlike the Ten Commandments, Karenga's Seven Principles notably do not prohibit murder. At an August 1967 black power conference in San Diego, Kalenga told his audience to “stop killing black people. This doesn’t mean you must not kill, but just don’t kill black people.” During a question and answer session at the end of the conference, when Karenga was asked, “What are you going to do with the white people?” Karenga responded, “When the black man takes over, some of you who like dogs will be allowed to keep a few white people around the house as pets.”

“When the black man takes over,” was an allusion to the revolutionary race war Karenga and his organization were planning. According to a now-declassified internal FBI report on Kalenga from 1968, US was planning to start the race war some time between 1971 and 1972. The group’s meetings were apparently infiltrated by FBI informants, although US made no secret of its plans. According to the Quotable Karenga:

When word is given we’ll see how tough you are. When it’s ‘burn’ let's see how much you burn. When it’s ‘kill,’ let’s see how much you kill. When it’s ‘blow up’ let’s see how much you blow up. And when it’s ‘take that white girl’s head off too,’ we’ll really see how tough you are.

Neither sympathetic white leftists nor moderate blacks were safe, with Kalenga declaring “All whites are white,” and “If some of our black brothers get in the way, eliminate him too.”

Some of the “black brothers” getting in Karenga’s way were, surprisingly, members of the equally radical Black Panther Party (BPP). While there were ideological differences between the US and BPP — the BPP was Maoist and Karenga was not — the conflict was more of a narcissistic rivalry. Early on, Karenga’s followers smugly called him the “blackest panther” in an apparent slight against the BPP, and things escalated from there. Law enforcement saw Karenga’s group as a small, regional group of braggarts who spent most of their time teaching each other karate and Swahili. The Panthers, on the other hand, were a national organization of well-organized and well-armed Marxist militants.

The FBI and LAPD (working somewhat in tandem) exploited the rivalry between the two groups. As part of its now infamous COINTELPRO program, for example, the FBI disseminated falsely attributed propaganda and forged letters between the two organizations, including one that supposedly exposed a Black Panther plot to kill Karenga. According to Louis Tackwood, a former undercover agent for the LAPD’s Criminal Conspiracy Division, the LAPD went even further, fully recruiting Karenga as a willing asset and arming him in their fight against the Panthers. A 1968 Wall Street Journal article titled “Black Enigma” further alleged that, shortly after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, Karenga met clandestinely with LAPD Chief Thomas Reddin, and was summoned to Sacramento to meet with then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. Ultimately, the growing animosity between the US and BPP culminated in a shootout at the UCLA campus which killed several Black Panthers and led to the arrest of five US members, three of whom were convicted of second-degree murder. 

Two years later, in 1971, Karenga himself was arrested and convicted of kidnapping and assaulting two women he believed were conspiring against him. Court testimony revealed the two women were stripped naked and tortured with soldering irons, forced to drink detergent-filled water, and beaten with electrical cords and batons, among other things. Karenga has always maintained his innocence, despite the plethora of evidence presented at trial, and has described himself as a “political prisoner.” He was released from prison in 1975, and just eight years later became the chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University at Long Beach, a job he still has today despite the current hypersensitive, microaggressions-focused cultural moment. 

The rehabilitation of Karenga — facilitated by a public institution in California, no less — was so rapid it's no wonder his holiday was equally polished up and institutionalized. Karenga’s newfound “moderation” certainly helped. Now he says Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration that isn’t supposed to replace Christmas — an incredible 180 that completely contradicts his reason for creating the holiday in the first place.

The one thing about Kwanzaa that has remained true is that it’s a completely manufactured event. Swahili is a lingua franca spoken largely in East Africa, and most black Americans are descended from West Africans. The feast itself is purportedly based largely on Ashanti and Zulu harvest traditions, but virtually no Zulu (who are native to modern-day South Africa) were taken to the Americas. The Ashanti Kingdom, on the other hand, was among the largest suppliers of slaves in the transatlantic trade and continued enslaving other Africans until the British launched a series of wars to stop them. A black American celebrating Kwanzaa is like an Irish Catholic waving the Union Jack and reciting a poem in Lithuanian. 

Kwanzaa’s manufactured multiculturalism is purely aesthetic, which is a perfect sell for politicians, particularly on the left (lest we forget congressional Democrats donning Kenti Cloths during the George Floyd riots). I suspect that Kwanzaa’s institutionalization in academia, a base of support for the Democratic Party, has something to do with its positive reception. The same is true for the strange, amnesiac nostalgia that many liberal and left-wing boomers have for the radicalism of the sixties and seventies. Obama, after all, started his first political campaign in the living room of two former members of the Weather Underground terrorist group (like Karenga, both became professors). Biden, for his part, has greatly exaggerated, and in some cases, lied about, about his participation in the Civil Rights movement. For the boomer Democrat, the 60s, and 70s were strange times, man, so you can forget the crazy stuff and put the rest on a postage stamp.

Despite what Bill Clinton said during the first Kwanzaa proclamation in 1999, Kwanzaa does not have “roots in the ancient history and cultural traditions of Africa,” nor does it “reflect the diversity that gives our nation much of its strength and resilience.” It is Hotep Thanksgiving with a broken Menorah, and the guy who invented it wanted to end American diversity through the mass genocide of the majority of its population. 

If the left-wing slogan “fuck the police,” means anything, that includes Karenga. If “believe all women,” means anything, it should mean believe the women who Karenga was convicted of torturing with a soldering iron in a court of law. Fuck Karenga. Abolish Kwanzaa. The stamps don’t sell and it was never going to top Christmas anyway.

– River Page

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