At LaShawn Barber’s Corner, the conservative black blogger re-posts her essay criticizing Kwanzaa from a Christian perspective. She also bemoans the difficulty in persuading others to her point of view. Here’s part of what she has to say:
Here’s the most irritating thing about running a blog with commenting. Sometimes it’s difficult to express oneself clearly to people of varying cognitive abilities. Some process information better than others. Some are able to reason better than others. The less bright may miss the subtlety and nuance. Certain readers may know a bit of the history behind a particular subject; others may be completely ignorant of it. The intellectually curious may do some independent research in an effort to support or dispute my arguments, while others just want to get in their 2 cents regardless. A few may lack common sense altogether, and still others want to be contrary just for the sake of being contrary.
(Thanks to Kathy Shaidle for the link.)
Hell, I can say Amen to that! The part about speaking to idiots resonates with me today, so that’s what I want to write a little bit about. I got three or four really good remarks in my comment boxes, but then I got another one from a real dick wad. Why just a few hours ago I responded to a comment on my other blog from a man calling himself Roger Wray. Roger said: “Homosexuality is condemned by God’s word as an abomination; therefore, anything that is written on this site about God is irrelevant.” It’s hard to muster civility when responding to people who are both idiots and assholes at the same time. When I first started blogging, I tried to be so civil and sensitive and polite. Now I just either tell them to fuck off or I delete the comment or try to ignore it. As a general rule of thumb, I’ll return civil responses with civil responses, though I’m fairly picky about who I carry on a conversation with. Bible quoters who tell me that they are praying for my soul probably won’t get more than a single polite brush off, if that. The longer I blog, the more crotchety I find myself becoming.
But back to Kwanzaa and Barber’s tirade against it. You can read her piece and decide for yourself. I think it’s a smartly written case derived from fairly standard traditionalist/rationalist modes of analysis. There’s a very good reason Barber’s not reaching the unconverted with her attacks on Kwanzaa. Her reasons, purported to be universally valid, only apply if you first adopt good, plain old fashioned (that is, twentieth century fundamentalist-oriented) Christianity with more than a hint of ethnocentrism and Xenophobia. As much as Barber would like to place the blame for disagreements over Kwanzaa on the lack of Biblical training in public schools or the cognitive abilities of her dialogue partners, it’s much more likely that the sources for the divide are deeper, wider, and more complex than she imagines.
Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday honoring African-American heritage, observed from December 26 to January 1. Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration, not a religious holiday. Unfortunately, the difference between the two is lost on Barber, who assails Kwanzaa as a “pagan” tradition because it borrows rituals from some traditional African cultures. Barber says that it’s unfair that public schools can discuss Kwanzaa but cannot teach about Jesus Christ.
The problem with such reasoning isn’t that it’s dumb; Barber makes a fine, coherent case. The problem is that critical distinctions between religion and culture simply haven’t been well differentiated at the traditionalist/rationalist stage of development. At Barber’s level of analysis, all religions and cultures are to be weighed against the One True Myth. Surprise, it just happens to be HERS! Yes, HER Myths. HER Church. HER Sacred Books. HER Country. HER Culture. What is reasonable is that which is in conformity with the One True Myth… and surprise! It’s okay to celebrate Christmas, but not Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is bad because it’s a “made-up, anti-Christian observance.” And Christmas is good because it’s a “deep-rooted, historical, [and] true observance.”
The notion that it’s possible to deeply separate religion and culture (or science, philosophy, and art, for that matter) does not enter consciousness in anything except a superficial manner until the pluralistic stage of development. Why is this important? At higher levels of development, it’s possible to hold a greater number of perspectives, even perspectives that seem paradoxically to be irreconcilable or opposite. It is possible to admire greater cultural, artistic, and linguistic diversity without constantly striving to fit everything into a narrow box of orthodoxy. A religious holiday derives from one particular religious tradition, and observance of such holiday is generally taken to be practicing a particular religion; a cultural celebration does not derive exclusively from one religion, nor does its celebration indicate a religious preference. To celebrate Ramadan, you pretty much have to be Muslim; to celebrate Groundhog Day or Mother’s Day or Arbor Day or Kwanzaa, there is no religious aspect.
As a celebration of culture and diversity within a context of affirming both traditional values and development to a greater stage of Unity, Kwanzaa is a premiere holiday of the multicultural pluralistic historical stage… and derives from a truly integralexpression of wisdom. In this sense, Kwanzaa is an elite cultural holiday: it’s based on a vision that simply could not have arisen until the arrival of modern and postmodern intellectual expressions in the African-American community in the mid 1960s. And it is a vision that has succeeded where so many other pie in the sky ideas have failed: it has become part of the cultural mainstream. By some reckoning, Kwanzaa has been celebrated by as many as 60 million individuals. Kwanzaa-related segments are regularly featured on Oprah, Martha Stewart Living, and the HGTV cable channel.
This cultural infiltration makes Kwanzaa very threatening to cultual conservatives of all stripes and especially black conservatives who have not risen up to the pluralistic stage or higher. Barber’s analysis of Kwanzaa is such a reactionary stand, a frightened plea to forgo new traditions in favor of the old ways and a paranoid attack that misjudges and distorts the facts surrounding the holiday. There is no need to choose between Christmas and Kwanzaa, for there is no conflict in theory or practice, except in the realm of delusion. Simply because Barber doesn’t recognize the difference between a cultural tradition and a religious tradition doesn’t mean that such distinctions aren’t useful or real. It’s just that such distinctions have not yet arisen in her dominant mythic-based mode of analysis. This new winter festival does not take anything away from other traditions; it simply adds a new way of being together and honoring the heritage of black Americans of African descent.
Happy Kwanzaa to all!