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March 31, 2015

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3) More research on the trend might be needed: 500,000 to 2 million is a fairly broad range when attempting to guess the number of African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa. This is not to undermine the research of Dr. Mayes, but I'd love to see more statisticians get involved in order to get an accurate assessment of the trends of Kwanzaa celebration. When there are AP articles on Kwanzaa quoting the likes of Jesse Lee Peterson (who wrote that the black victims of Hurricane Katrina were victimized more by their "moral poverty" than by government inaction), I wonder if the alleged decline in Kwanzaa celebration is simply wishful thinking. Although he has a right to his opinion, Peterson should not be deciding the fate of black America. African Americans such as Peterson sometimes leverage the honest work of good scholars like Dr. Mayes for their own political benefit.

4) Many African Americans may not celebrate Kwanzaa, but they respect it: My family doesn't always celebrate Kwanzaa, but it's not because we think the holiday should disappear. After all of the psychological, emotional and financial energy spent on Christmas, we just don't have the "juice" for another holiday. I am willing to bet that a survey among African Americans would reveal that most black people have respect for Kwanzaa, even if they don't celebrate it themselves. So the alleged leveling off of Kwanzaa should not imply that the holiday is obsolete.

5) It's time for us to become informed: If there is indeed a "leveling off" in the celebration of Kwanzaa, then perhaps educating the public on the principles might be a great way to increase participation. In fact, I often wonder why it is out of the question for every major university to require students to study Kwanzaa as part of the college curriculum. If I am forced to learn details of George Washington, Ben Franklin, Christopher Columbus and other people who don't mean a thing to me, then why can't other students learn about the things that matter to my community?

6) Commercialization plays a role: Christmas has become more about trips to Wal-Mart than Jesus. Corporate America tells us that if your Christmas celebration doesn't involve your Visa card, then you've completely missed the point. To that extent, commercialization has played a huge role in the popularity of Christmas every year. By rejecting excessive commercialization, it is only natural that a young celebration like Kwanzaa will have a relatively weak following. This is a good thing, actually, since Christmas has become something that I can't quite recognize anymore.

7) Why not discuss Kwanzaa year round? The seven principles of Kwanzaa are not concepts that should be applied once a year. They are ideas that work for the entire year. I propose that we consider renewing our commitment to the principles of Kwanzaa once a month, making Kwanzaa a deeper part of the black social infrastructure.

The bottom line is that Kwanzaa is not dying and it is not dead. I consider the research by Dr. Mayes to be a call to refresh and remind ourselves about the beauty of being black. America is a melting pot of cultures, and if being post-racial means that we all have to be the same, then I don't want any part of it.


Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.
Tagged as: african americans, AfricanAmericans, black politics, BlackPolitics, Dr. Keith Mayes, Dr.KeithMayes, jesse lee peterson, JesseLeePeterson, kwanzaa

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