African-American Holidays: Traditions of Self-Determination
Every year we hear the same arguments made about why African-Americans should not celebrate American holidays. From an African-centered perspective, American holidays are inherently Eurocentric. Thus, to empower ourselves as Afrikan people, we should celebrate our own holidays. On the other hand, revolutionaries tend to condemn Eurocentric holidays for glorifying historical violence and ill-gotten achievements of oppressors. A good example of this would be Thanksgiving, as we view it as being a celebration of the settler colonial genocide of Native-American people. According to revolutionaries, and/or cultural nationalists, it would be in the best interest of Black People to drop the holidays of their oppressors and practice holidays of their own making.
These ideas were strongly formed during the Black Power era of the 1960s and ’70s. Here many activists saw the Black revolution beyond merely political and economic struggles. They also felt the need for a cultural revolution that would purge reactionary behaviors and act as an agent to inspire social change within the masses of Black people. Maulana Karenga, Professor of African studies and Co-founder of US, recalls, “Culture, we said in the Sixties, is the first and fundamental ground of resistance; cultural revolution precedes and makes possible and sustains the political struggle; and revolution and resistance are acts of culture themselves (Karenga, 2013).” It was also believed that the cultural revolution should be a re-immersion into the positive aspects of African culture to defeat the whitewashing of American society on the Black psyche and reconnect us to our African roots. Consequently, the cultural revolution for Blacks in America became a concept known as re-Africanization.
The re-Africanization process took many forms, although its most recognized version took the form of renaming oneself, as popularized by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam (NOI). According to History Professor Edward Onaci, “Although the conversation about naming has roots as deep as the African presence in the Americas, the politics of naming during the Black Power era found immediate inspiration in an iconic NOI minister. In 1952, Malcolm Little recognized the history of anti-Black violence embedded in his surname, so he dropped the name of his ancestors’ slave owner for an ‘X’ (Onaci, 2016).” Along with the change of names, even the spelling of Africa was a challenge. Spelling Africa with a “c” was seen as a Eurocentric “pollution” to the correct linguistics of Africa. Thus, reverting the spelling of Africa to Afrika with a K would “empower people of African descent and create the foundation for a common identity between them (Haki R. Madhubuti, 2021).” This was all in an attempt to create a greater sense of cultural Pan-African unity by creating strong African identities. Along with the name changes and respelling of Africa, holidays too became a topic of discussion.
Some may downplay or simply not understand the relevance of this issue,however, the topic of holidays is important as it relates to the identity and self-determination of Afrikan people. For example, according to author, historian and educator Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango, “Holidays are the institutionalized celebrations of the thoughts and ideas of a particular philosophy worldview (Barashango, 2018).” For this reason, Eurocentric holidays can reinforce the identity of the oppressors in the minds of the oppressed . For example, a major impediment for revolutionaries is that African-Americans would often rather identify with being American more so than with being African. Therefore, it is hard to convince the masses of people to be concerned with Pan-Africanism and/or internationalism as they do not see its connection to their immediate problems. Also, this identification with America defines progress as getting more Black people into higher positions within the empire. Thus, it becomes harder to convince the masses that the empire of America should be destroyed and not maintained by entering and maintaining the status quo.
African-centered activists and revolutionaries should both use as many tools as they can to capture the heart and minds of the people. However, too many revolutionaries make the mistake of being overly critical of the holidays, and even of some alternative holidays, celebrated by the people. The mistake here is that the “revolutionary” becomes alienated from the masses of people that he/she is trying to politicize. These “revolutionaries” become revolutionary cultists. The primary characteristics of a revolutionary cultist are defined by Black Panther Party For Self-Defense founder Huey Newton as “[when a person]despises everyone who has not reached his level of consciousness or the level of consciousness that he thinks he has reached, instead of acting to bring people to that level. In that way the revolutionary cultist becomes divided from the people: he defects from the community (Newton, 2009).” Yet, to do this and say you work for the people makes no sense.
As we know, being a revolutionary is hard work. However, no one wants to join in on the misery of not celebrating and not having fun. Despite whatever truth these arguments hold, holiday celebrations to the masses mean joyous gatherings with friends and family and perhaps time off from work. Thus, to them not to celebrate is asking them to accept abstract ideologies without offering alternatives and is backward. With no alternatives to these holidays, people who condemn them can end up isolating themselves. Which, almost ultimately, ends with them celebrating the “white man’s” holidays with family, anyway.
At other times, more radical Black groups want to celebrate holidays that have no genuine connection to the masses of Black people. For example, they try to introduce some special “solstice” observance concepts practiced 10,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. This thinking and practice is also incorrect. According to author and pastor James C. Anyike, “Through the span of history people have always been grouped together based on tribal, regional, national, social, and religious values. These values eventually lead to cultural distinctions that are often identified through special practices, beliefs and observances relevant to that group (Anyike, p.2, 1991)”. Holidays, to be relevant to the people, must reflect their aspirations, experiences, champions, and accomplishments. To neglect this would be to do the people a disservice.
Thus, Community Movement Builders put together an alternative holiday list that represents the rich heritage of Afrikan resistance. This holiday list includes a few holidays already known and some new ones. Furthermore, these holidays come out of the Afrikan struggle and all have their unique own stories and traditions. Although this list is politically orientated, it also offers alternative cultural holidays that can be used for celebratory purposes. Political organizations should use these holidays as a tool for organizing community events.
Lastly, this is a short holiday list. There are diverse African American holidays and practices for those who wish to do further research on this subject. For those who would like to know more about holidays and learn good “how-to” holiday instructions, I recommend the following books:
African-American Holidays: A Historical Research and Resource Guide to Cultural Celebrations by James C. Anyike
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations: The History, Customs, and Symbols Associated with Both Traditional and Contemporary Religious and Secular Events Observed by Americans of African Descent by Kathlyn Gay
Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Maulana Karenga
Afrikan People’s Holiday List
January 1st Haitian Independence Day
Every 3rd Monday in January MLK day
February 1st – 28th Black History Month
February 13th Black Love Day
March 10th Harriet Tubman Day
Every Last week in April Pan-African Week
May 19th Malcolm X Day
May 25th Afrika Liberation Day
June 19th Juneteenth National Freedom Day
July 16th – 27th Afrikan Women’s Liberation Week (11 Day Celebration) *
August 1st – 31st Black August
August 17th Marcus Garvey Day
September 17th Maafa Afrikan Holocaust (Slavery) Commemoration Day
October 12th Indigenous People Day
Every fourth Sunday of November Umoja Karamu (Unity Feast)
December 26th – January 1st Kwanzaa
*(A more detailed explanation of Afrikan Women’s Liberation Week will be released by Community Movement Builders at a later time)
Karenga, Maulana (September 15, 2003). “Towards Serious Re-Africanization: Kawaida, Culture, Revolution and Resistance.” https://ibw21.org/commentary/towards-serious-re-africanization-kawaida-culture-revolution-and-resistance/
Onaci, Edward (August 25, 2016). “Black Power, Name Choices, and Self-Determination”. Black Perspectives African American Intellectual Society. https://www.aaihs.org/black-power-name-choices-and-self-determination/
Madhubuti, Haki R. (January 4, 2021). “Four Reasons for Using ‘K’ in Afrika“. The State of History. https://soh.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/items/show/692.
Jones, Sean (January 31, 2018). “ISHAKAMUSA BARASHANGO EUROPEAN HOLIDAYS”. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RefGh-3LcHk&t=227s
Newton, Huey (2009). To Die for the People. City Lights Publisher.
Anyike, James C. (1991). African American Holidays: A historical Research and Resource Guide to Cultural Celebrations. Popular Truth Inc
By Zahir Olodunni Mobolaji Touré
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