Friday, December 26, 2014

Have Yourself a Merry Little Kwanzaa

By Nicholas Stix

This article ran in the January, 1996 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

I’d sold my first manuscript to Ted Pappas at Chronicles in the summer of 1992, but at first, I was limited to the Cultural Revolutions “ghetto.” Actually, CR was a great place to be, since it was the front of the book, but the problem was that editor-in-chief Thomas Fleming only paid $50 for CR essays. I suppose one could see that as a trade-off.

At any rate, it got me in “the book.” If memory serves, the first article that got me the big ($200!) bucks, and a listing in the table of contents, was my August (?), 1995 exposé, “Black English.” Although I never went to Rockford, and never met any of my editors or colleagues until either they had left Chronicles, or until after Fleming had suddenly ceased publishing me and cheated me out of $150 in 1999, from 1996 through 1998, my presence at Chronicles grew increasingly influential. During 1998, I was a factor in at least six issues, either as Nicholas Stix or Robert Berman, or via a letter to the editor regarding an article I’d written, once for each name.

The article below runs 3,443 words. I don’t think Ted Pappas ever ran one of my articles longer than 2,400 words, so he must have cut about 1,000 words, probably the material on George S. Schuyler. In the summer of 1996 or ’97, Ted ran my first major work on Schuyler as my first and only featured Chronicles article. The historian Eugene Genovese (Roll, Jordan, Roll!) had been commissioned to write an article on black nationalism, but took ill, and Ted let me fill his slot with “The Black Nationalism of George S. Schuyler.” Those were heady days, indeed!

On second thought, life for me is better than ever—it's my country that is deathly ill.

* * *
Kwanzaa's Black-and-White World
By Nicholas Stix
January, 1996
Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture

What are you doing this year for Kwanzaa? Once a ludicrous question, in urban America today public agencies, newspapers, and businesses trip over themselves showing their unqualified support for this anomalous occasion. Presented now like a religious, now a national holiday, Afrocentrism's Kwanzaa immediately follows the "Judeo-Christian" holidays.

It's one thing to wear mismatched socks, and another altogether to mix and match politics and religion. After all, those who have most vociferously supported Kwanzaa's establishment are the same folks, white and black, who are always on the lookout for displays of religious faith as benign as a menorah or Christmas tree in a public square.

The battle lines on the First Amendment's two religion clauses comprise those who, ignoring the establishment clause, see America as a Christian nation, in which earthly government collapses without a religious foundation; moderates embracing both clauses who juggle parties and confessions; those who, ignoring the free exercise clause, invoke a "wall" between church and state; and those who seek to use the public sphere to stamp out all traditional religions in the name of "teaching tolerance," while establishing beliefs such as Afrocentrism.

Kwanzaa is so established in government-sanctioned public life that an otherwise valuable, remedial writing textbook (Evergreen) reports that "Kwanzaa was introduced to America in 1966."

Kwanzaa wasn't introduced to, but invented in America. It is one of those pseudo-African practices, like naming children "Tawana" or "Lakeisha," or wearing "crown" caps that confirm real Africans' worst misgivings about American blacks.

Kwanzaa exists to enhance black Americans' self-esteem via a zero-sum calculus that requires they constantly insult "European Americans." The very term "African American" bespeaks superiority to its black users; "European American" is a half-educated obscurantist's version of "honkey." As per philosopher C.L. Stevenson's concept of "persuasive definitions," Afrocentrists seek to impose terms of discourse such that the language confirms their beliefs without the need to argue them.

Kwanzaa is at home in an ecumenical world in which hostility to religious faith, its intellectual wellsprings and the denominational distinctions flowing from these has so thoroughly triumphed that self-proclaimed secularists speak in religious terms, theologians speak only in worldly terms, and none seem aware of what they are doing. Meanwhile, a church-state separation is continually invoked that "religionists" and "secularists" alike have erased.

Pure Ebony

In December 1994, a columnist in Harlem's Amsterdam News, New York's oldest black newspaper, complained that commercialism had soiled Kwanzaa's purity. Conversely, in his 1994 pamphlet, Kwanzaa, Harlem community activist Cedric McClester gave "a special thanks to Mr. Jose Ferrer, a true marketing genius and a living example of the Kwanzaa principles."

"The true significance of Kwanzaa lies in the seven principles it is based on. Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith are not only good principles to live by, they are also universally recognized as proper guides for cohesive socialization."

Most Afrocentric statements of faith are meant to be taken literally by white devils, but read "Black" by "Africans." If the seven principles of Kwanzaa were "universally recognized" there would be no need to state them, and they would be out of place in a specifically black celebration couched in East African Kiswahili ("Umoja, Kugichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani"). One hears always from black nationalist leaders and their "progressive" white stooges of the need for "unity against those who would divide us," as if Martians were coming from outer space to break an indivisible human solidarity. The solidarity, of course, is that of black nationalists against whites—and black opponents. It never occurs to black nationalists' white supporters that they play the role of "Uncle Toms," prostrating themselves before those who hate them based on their skin color.

* * *
White "liberals" demand respect for blacks' "right to self-definition." Fair enough—if blacks want to celebrate Kwanzaa privately. Over 90% of American blacks identify themselves as Christians, whereas tiny percentages identify with Afrocentrism or Islam. What about Christians' right to self-definition? And on what basis does someone's "right to self-definition" preclude my right to criticize his chosen definitions?

We cannot overlook the pivotal fact that Christianity is based on a number of truth claims (there is a God; there is only one God; His only son, Jesus Christ, was immaculately conceived and died for our sins; Christ was spiritually and physically resurrected after His crucifixion; and He will grant us eternal life, if we take Him as our Savior), whereas as far as I can see Kwanzaa is not based on any truth claims.

Nor is Kwanzaa a product of black "self-definition." As doubtful as the value of any concept of self-definition is, at minimum it would have to arise through independently-funded, private Afrocentric schools, churches and organizations. As part of a consciously anti-Christian movement, Kwanzaa owes what popularity it enjoys entirely to its having been imposed on children, black and non-black alike, through public schools and publicly-funded agencies, often with the help of powerful whites. Not only is its establishment unconstitutional, but the outcry against white and black Christian conservatives' desire to reintroduce public school prayer has been curiously missing regarding the state establishment of Kwanzaa. Apparently, some self-definitions are more equal than others.

If Kwanzaa is political, why should Americans recognize a holiday not the property of all the people? If Kwanzaa is religious, then it has no claim on public propagation, unless other religions get parity.

* * *
Nowhere in McClester's pamphlet do "white (people)" appear, and "black" is always capitalized. (Some black nationalists capitalize "white" and "black" alike, while bean counters, like Nikki Giovanni in Racism 101, spell "white" lower-case, while capitalizing "black.")

McClester claims that Ron Everett/Maulana Karenga's invention, which "began as a cultural idea ... has blossomed into the only nationally celebrated, indigenous, non-religious, non-heroic, non-political African-American holiday." That's a lot of "non-s."

Just before denying that Kwanzaa is a religious holiday, McClester praises Allah. Immediately after denying that it is a political holiday, he describes Kwanzaa as "an expression of [Everett's] nationalist Us organization." He denies that Kwanzaa is a "Christmas substitute," only to note that "Dr. Karenga recognized the undue hardship that the over commercialization of Christmas has for Black people and others who are at the lowest rung of the social strata. Therefore, those who find Kwanzaa to be more meaningful to them, now have an option and can still be part of the holiday season." Are we to believe it is a mere coincidence that Karenga chose the week of December 26-January 1 to celebrate Kwanzaa? Well.

Kwanzaa has its place in the movement towards a black God, and a black world. As with other nationalist/racialist movements, god is the slave of politics.

Afrocentrists see the white and black races in a struggle to the death; history will reward the biologically, morally and spiritually (read: culturally) superior black race in the annihilation of the wicked, "colorless" people. This is the meaning behind Frances Cress Welsing's theory of worldwide "color confrontation." To clothes sporting the red, black and dark green of the Marcus Garvey-inspired "African-American flag" has been added the "sun people's" gold.

Their reality limited to races of slaves and masters, Afrocentrists must ignore or deny the rich lode of scholarship mined by Larry Koger, whose Black Slaveowners (1985/95) showed that the vast majority of antebellum, South Carolina freedmen became slaveowners. Using wills, census data, and bills of sale, Koger refuted the long-accepted thesis of nationalist scholar Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), and, more recently, moderate historian John Hope Franklin (1915-), that black slave ownership was limited to the "benevolent" repatriation or emancipation of the owner's kin. Koger proved that free blacks engaged in the purely commercial purchase, use and sale of chattel slaves. In Black Slaveowners' 1995 edition, Koger notes that "even though there were black masters in every state where slavery existed, their story has not been told....In Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia, free blacks owned more than 10,000 slaves, according to the federal census of 1830."

A Black God?

Four years ago, a black boy and his huge, like-minded classmate sat next to me in a Brooklyn subway car, spouting racist epithets. Frightened whites rationalize that contradicting young thugs is a "waste of time." When I criticized the youngster (who turned out to be only 14 years old), he contemptuously announced to his friend, "They're afraid of a strong black man." The "strong black man" he was referring to was himself! I scoffed, "You're not a man, you're a child."
The boy demanded I tell him "what color God is." When I laughed at the idea of God having a color, he sneered, "He don't know what he's talkin' about." I was supposed to answer "white," so he could "straighten out" a white devil.
Indirectly, I was arguing with the teachers, social workers, and relatives who had told the child that he was a "man" who could treat grown white men with contempt. His hope that I feared him was inseparable from his faith that God was black. A black God is designed to increase black "men's" self-esteem in the race war against white "boys." Enter the theologians.

* * *
Maryknoll's Orbis Books publishes a close-knit, interdenominational school of black nationalist theologians who hold distinguished professorships at prestigious theological seminaries, co-author and co-edit books, and trade footnotes, forewords and jacket blurbs. In Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (1990), African Methodist Episcopalian James H. Cone sees Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X standing on common ground at the end of their lives, despite Martin's having been a devout, non-violent, Baptist universalist, while Malcolm died a violence-espousing ("non-non-violence"), orthodox Moslem. Cone's method is to continually shift his grounds, justifying problems in King's theology, for instance, through his "practice."

In Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of Afro-American People (1973/83), Cone's United Presbyterian comrade-in-arms, Gayraud S. Wilmore, sees in Christianity not a universal truth transcending all colors, but a mere means for serving blackness. For Wilmore, "black religion" has a "common core related to Africa and racial oppression."

As with the child on the subway, for the likes of Cone, Wilmore, and C. Eric Lincoln, race is the cosmic factor determining all reality. And so, while the biggest insult against a white is to call him a "racist," the greatest honor for a black nationalist is to affirm, as a 40-ish woman on another train line in Queens recently announced to me, "I'm racist, and I'm proud!"

Sociology or Theology?

At the center of "black theology" stands C. Eric Lincoln. Lincoln's (and Lawrence H. Mamiya's) The Black Church in the African American Experience (1990) capped a career that produced treatises on black Christians and Muslims alike. But is Lincoln a sociologist of religion, or a theologian? The same question dogs Cone and Wilmore; it is one thing to describe disparate, mutually irreconcilable political and religious sects that have been embraced by black Americans, and quite another to see a transcendent truth binding them.

In The Black Muslims in America (1961), C. Eric Lincoln defended Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam against critics who argued that "NOI" was a political, rather than a religious movement. Lincoln insisted that in cases of religious conflict, the traditional American practice was to attack a given sect as a wrong-headed religion, but not to question its status as religion.

Just as it was expedient for Lincoln to affirm the Nation of Islam's "religious" status in 1961, today it is expedient for McClester, et al. to endow Kwanzaa with "cultural" status.

For the NOI, currently run by Minister Louis Farrakhan, God is black, as was man, until the evil black scientist, Yacub, created the white man some 6,000 years ago.

While teaching in a New Jersey community college in 1994, a twenty-something student named George Fairmon, who as it turned out was a member of the "Nation," asked why I mocked the "myth of Yacub." Although alluding vaguely to a dark past, Mr. Fairmon took the trouble to politely argue his points, a rarity on today's campuses. When I noted that orthodox Islam had always been run by white men, Fairmon countered that the theology and command structure could have been skewed to serve the interests of the ruling elite. Fair enough, I granted, but separated from the way it has been handed down over the centuries, there is no religion. If one disagrees with an entire tradition, it is more honest and more practical to opt out of it altogether.

Like other secular-religion movements such as Reform Judaism, liberal Christianity and liberation theology, the Nation of Islam accepts only those aspects of a tradition which it finds expedient, while contradicting the rest of the faith.

The common denominator of the various theorists mentioned above is a mystical notion of "culture." For black cultural nationalists, "culture" equals community equals race equals nation equals language. Culture is the father of us all; religion and politics derive alike from it. McClester's protestations notwithstanding, Kwanzaa is religious and political and heroic. This thing, "culture," is a natural human organism and an artificial human construct, and has godly attributes.

I didn't say this stuff was especially rational. Such a metaphysical wish list is best viewed as a racist version of a Democratic Party convention platform: Culture is all black things to all black men.

In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) derided such thought systems as mere projections from secular reality onto the metaphysical cosmos. In essence, one worshiped not the deity, but the reflection of one's society.

Durkheim's drawback was in explaining away not merely bastardized, secular religion, but all religion. A disenchanted, neo-Hegelian socialist, he saw all religion as fraudulent, and yet—in the Comtean, positivist tradition—saw sociology as offering all the answers to ultimate queries that religion had traditionally dispensed.

Reflections in Black

Satirist George S. Schuyler (1895-1977) was as skeptical about religion as Durkheim. A conservative snob who died opposing integration, in Black No More (1932) a young Schuyler mocked the black masses' envy of whiteness. Thinly veiled caricatures of the likes of W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) and Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) lampooned black leaders' claims to serve those masses while enriching only themselves. Black No More told (before the myth of Yacub!) of a black scientist who turned eager black customers white.

It has only recently been discovered that from 1936-38 the prolific Schuyler wrote two serial-novels for the weekly black newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier's, national audience. Under the pseudonym Samuel I. Brooks, he typed The Black Internationale: Story of Black Genius Against the World, and Black Empire: An Imaginative Story of a Great New Civilization in Africa. Although as John A. Williams notes in his foreword to the novels, they lack the nimble wordplay of the "black Mencken" of Black No More, Schuyler's fascination with technology, and disdain for the masses are much in evidence. Like many of the nationalists whom he often mercilessly mocked, Schuyler veered for a time to fascism.

Although Schuyler later disavowed the beliefs espoused by his serials' characters as “hokum,” there is too much of him in them to take his protests at face value.

The Black Internationale's hero, evil genius Dr. Henry Belsidus, kills whites—and any black traitors to the cause—without thinking twice. As he explains to his protege, Carl Slater, "I use their women to aid in their destruction.... When they fail, I destroy them.... you know, I do not trust white people. I just use them.... "Of course it's murder," he said, smiling sardonically.... What are a few paltry lives compared to the goal we seek?... Hah!... If we murdered one of them every day, it would take us several centuries to catch up, Slater."

Despite planning a black empire in Africa, like many a contemporary black nationalist, Belsidus holds Africans in contempt.

The most original motif of The Black Internationale is Belsidus' scheme to invent a black "Church of Love" out of thin air, which served to centralize all black commerce, and raise a secret black army. Conceived as everything the black churches of the time weren't, the Church of Love was technologically advanced, with a futuristic sound system, trap doors, a 60-foot, ebony God of Love, drugs wafting through the air, mixed Western and African motifs—and sex.

In the church basement, a huge arcade of businesses minister to all of the parishioners' needs. In the chapel, Rev. Samson Binks intones to the faithful,

"My people, today you have seen and experienced that of which there is no counterpart in the world. You have taken part in our services to honor the God of Love. You will henceforward be ruled and commanded by love. You will realize that black people can only become great, black people can only become prosperous, black people can only become powerful by loving one another. It must be a wholehearted, unashamed, literal love ... We must not quarrel or contend with each other. Our love must include all black people, all brown people, all yellow people, for together these colored people are soon to rule the earth.

"That is the meaning of this church, that is the meaning of this religion, that is the meaning of this God of Love ... that is the meaning of the great Black Internationale which dominates and will control all black people and will soon control world civilization.

"Follow the Black Internationale.... From an inferior you will become superior. Now despised, you will come to be honored and feared. From a people cursed by poverty, discrimination and segregation you will be great in the councils of nations.

"Those that oppose the Black Internationale will perish. The God of Love will strike down all those who sin against His injunction to black people to Love One Another.

"Leave your so-called Christian churches. Force them to close their doors. Christianity is a religion for slaves. You are free men. You are warriors. You are rulers. You no longer serve the white man.... A free man once more as were your ancestors in Africa."

Schuyler did not invent Rev. Binks out of whole cloth. The Jamaican-born, "Back-to-Africa" prophet and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), had had his moment in the sun—and in prison. Convicted of mail fraud, he was deported back to Jamaica in 1927. The Episcopalian Rev. George Alexander McGuire (1866-1934) had founded the Garveyite African Orthodox Church, with its black God and black Jesus in 1921, but soon thereafter had to run for his life from the would-be black messiah. (Garvey, who is believed to have had a number of critics murdered, fancied himself the originator of fascism, seeing Mussolini and Hitler as mere imitators.)

The black Muslim movement was founded in Detroit in 1930 by Wallace D. Fard/Master Wali Farad/Master Farad Muhammad, who "disappeared," coincident with the rise of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) in 1934.

[I had long surmised that Elijah Muhammad had had Fard murdered, but according to Karl Evanzz, in The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad, Fard was run out of Detroit by the police, and headed out to Los Angeles. Fard was a conman born Wallace Dodd Ford, who had not a drop of black blood.]

Schuyler's Rev. Binks' sermonizing was clearly influenced by the peculiar mix of militant racial separatism, fascism and "Ethiopianism" (belief in a once and future black world supremacy) promoted by Garvey, Fard and Muhammad. The latter two were openly contemptuous of Christianity, while Garvey adorned himself in the shrouds of a syncretistic "Christianity" in the service of black nationalism.

Since Schuyler's newsprint vision, black revolutionary fantasies have resurfaced repeatedly, from Sam Greenlee's slick, James-Bond-in-blackface Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969) to the semi-literate Donald Goines' Crime Partners (written in 1974, under the pseudonym "Al C. Clark"). No black revolutionary novelist since Schuyler, however, has used religion (or technology, for that matter) to such powerful effect.

* * *
Gayraud S. Wilmore suggests a continuum from "black folk religion" (read: folk culture) to the African Orthodox Church to the Nation of Islam, culminating in (the then as yet unnamed) Afrocentrism. This is plausible only if one accepts the primacy of invention and expedience over revelation and reason. For "black folk religion" and Afrocentrism are both fabrications which serve to conjure a direction away from Christianity and towards black nationalism.

Kwanzaa and Afrocentrism represent different things to different black nationalists: a fast-buck scheme; a permanent counter-culture; a racial stronghold in which blacks can be as "nasty as they wanna be"; or a state-within-a-state that eventually will destroy the state surrounding and supporting it. Be that as it may, one is not obliged to sit back and watch as things "work themselves out" in the name of "self-determination." For neither is the "self" to be determined clear, nor the self that will do the determining. Not for blacks, or for whites. •

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When Ron chose Christmas time as the same time to celebrate Kwanzaa he did so admitting that the dates were chosen be "a whole bunch of the bloods would be partying at that time of the year anyhow."