Today is the last day of Kwanzaa 2009. Just as the holiday season was kicking into gear, Lainad over at BlogHer took issue with a post I wrote with some post-Oprah Christmas at the White House special questions. From “Is It A Bad Year to Celebrate Kwanzaa?”:

Jill Tubman over at Jack & Jill Politics asked why Oprah didn’t ask the First Family if they celebrated Kwanzaa at the White House:

No one mentioned Kwanzaa at all during Oprah’s special. Not even once. Do you celebrate Kwanzaa? Is there a kinara around somewhere in the East Wing? Some black, red and green candles? Are you at least going to use those Kwanzaa stamps from the Post Office on some of your holiday cards like other black people? I really love those stamps. They’re so colorful.

I believe Jill was being trite. A comment from that post:

Why would it be mentioned? Why would they celebrate Kwanzaa?
I don’t know anyone who celebrates Kwanzaa? Or who even mentions Kwanzaa.
The next thing you will be expecting is that the President and Mrs. Obama start wearing do-rags or that the President starts wearing his pants so that his behind hangs out just because many black people do this.
Stop this foolishness. Not all black people eat chitterlings. And I have NEVER cooked collared or any other kind of greens in my life. Not do I eat neck bones or pig’s feet. Or celebrate Kwanzaa.
This means that I am not black?
God, some black people are so disappointing.

Lainad’s main thrust is that Kwanzaa’s origins give fodder to conservatives to criticize African-Americans for being communist and that perhaps we should play Kwanzaa on the downlow this year to support the President.

OK, there are several problems here.  Let’s deconstruct, shall we?

1) “Trite”? Girl, please. Celebrating Kwanzaa in the White House would be anything but. In fact, it would be downright (ahem) revolutionary.

2) The dirty little secret of black folks is that only a small minority of us actually celebrate Kwanzaa as an actual holiday. Instead, Kwanzaa has become a way to recognize our cultural heritage in the midst of the holiday season. It provides a balance to the rampant materialism and maudlin sentimentalism of Christmas – it’s nice to take time to consider lofty concepts like Self-Determination that are so universal that Ralph Waldo Emerson would approve, I think.

Look, someone is buying all those Kwanzaa cards, holiday wrap and stamps. And I can assure you it ain’t white people. There was a time not long ago that celebrating our African roots was a novel concept. Kwanzaa’s themes, style & fashion was one of many cultural shifts that we now embrace in a multiculti America. And I do love those stamps. I put them on my Christmas cards.

3) Ain’t nothin’ blacker than collard greens, honey. God, yes, some black people are disappointing indeed. Black people who don’t know their own history or heritage, that is. Did you know collard greens (and other vegetables too) were brought straight from the motherland by African slaves? If your own ignorance separates you from delicious & nutritious greens particularly during the holidays when fatty foods abound, well, that’s awfully sad for you, isn’t it?

Greens originated in the eastern Mediterranean, but it wasn’t until the first Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in the early 1600s that America got its first taste of the dark green leafy vegetable. Greens were just one of a few select vegetables African-Americans were allowed to grow and harvest for themselves and their families throughout times of slavery, and so over the years cooked greens developed into a traditional food. Even after the Africans were emancipated in the late 1800s, their love of greens continued, and they kept handing down their well developed repertoire of greens recipes from one generation to the next.

Though greens did not originate in Africa, the habit of eating greens that have been cooked down into a low gravy, and drinking the juices from the greens (known as “pot likker”) is of African origin. Pot likker is quite nutritious and delicious, and contributes to the comfort-food aspects of the dish.

Today, many varieties of greens — collards, mustard, turnips, chard, spinach, kale — continue to be a traditional offering at potlucks, picnics, parties and family dinners, and are a staple in African-American culture.

Mmm….pot liquor…good for ails ya. For you vegetarians out there who prefer your greens not flavored with pork, I recommend tossing some Lipton’s Onion Soup mix or or Veggie broth into your pot of New Year’s greens.

Bottom line — I don’t think African-Americans have anything to be ashamed of regarding Kwanzaa. Sure, some of the day themes like “Cooperative Economics” are dated and inappropriate for kids — I’d prefer that there be a day devoted to the theme of “Sharing” instead. Kwanzaa could use some new age freshening for a contemporary America. Still, I think we can take pride in embracing a holiday that teaches values and which prepares us to meet the challenges of a new year. Let conservatives squawk. We must remain strong and certain in the face of the ignorant scorn of those who hate and seek division rather than seeing what positive values are shared among us.

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