Kwanzaa as a reflection upon past and future

Originally printed in the newsletter of Indigo Homeschool Association.

Kwanzaa represents a contribution to the on-going process of re-Africanization that many Africans in the U.S have been undertaking in the wake of the maafa—the interrelated processes of enslavement, colonialism, and their aftermaths. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa, sought to create a shared cultural experience among Africans in the United States that would serve to remind them of their African heritage, reinforce values which would serve to advance their struggle for liberation, and demonstrate the capacity of a self-determining people to create moments in time and space where they declare their intent to reflect upon themselves, their legacy, and their future.

The experience of Africans in the U.S. has been characterized as an incessant assault upon their minds, bodies, and institutions. Yet despite these efforts we have consistently looked back, struggling to reclaim an African heritage many thought lost to us. This is evident in the 19th Century when Martin R. Delany attempted to lay claim to ancient Egypt as a quintessentially Black civilization. In fact Delany’s 1859 visit to west Africa was an attempt to establish a settlement for African Americans desirous of leaving the U.S. Thus Delany’s efforts represent a process of looking back and forwards to Africa—looking back for the African American past, and looking forward for the African American future.
In short, Kwanzaa provides an occasion to engage in such lofty reflection. It enables us to take account of our past deeds, and to commit ourselves to a future which seeks to restore African people to their traditional greatness.

In an oppressive society, thinking is a potential act of resistance

If you accept the legitimacy of America, then you will argue vociferously in defense of it. If you accept that this is a settler colony that has been enriched by slavery and conquest, then you may entertain the thought that the rampant abuses of police officers, the chronic failure of schools that serve people of color, the use of African people in heinous medical experiments, or any of the other indices of despair that characterize our condition are not aberrations, but are in fact the necessary and logical outcomes of this system. Critical thinking is the most basic and fundamental right of the oppressed. It is the first act which makes all other acts aimed at ending oppression possible.

Ipuwer, crisis, and the maafa

The text that Theophile Obenga calls The Lamentations of Ipuwer is a lamentation of social decline. Set during the period that the Egyptologists call the First Intermediate Period after the end of the Old Kingdom, this text depicts a society that has descended into isfet. Foreign occupiers, marauding gangs, bandits, and usurpers—Ipuwer looks out upon a world that is characteristic of maximal chaos and disorder (isfet).

In many respects, Ipuwer’s narrative captures a world much like our own, both domestically and globally. Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton described African communities as internal colonies of the United States. As such, African American communities are positioned as sites of capital accumulation for groups external to the community. The effects of this external occupation of African American financial markets is compounded by the absence, marginality, or contraction of African American owned enterprises. Additionally, African American communities are often replete with institutions that exist outside of the purview of the community. Whether the unresponsiveness of these institutions is due to their external control, or characteristic of ineptitude, they represent fetters on the structural capacity of the community to conceptualize and effect its collective will and thus represents the salience of isfet within African communities.

Furthermore, whether or not crime rates in major American cities have declined, there is for many people a palpable sense danger. In many respects this corresponds to the previous condition of internal colonialism, as communities bereft of a locus of internal control are characteristic of what the social scientists call social disorganization. This perspective was expressed most succinctly by Nana Agyei Akoto at the Sankofa Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2006 when he said that “Everything is broken.” His contention was that the social systems of Africans had been shattered by the Maafa, hence our families, economic institutions, political institutions, and so forth have been decimated by this process. Just as Ipuwer observed the dispossessed around him, we have experienced a profound and traumatic experience of dislocation.