23 Dec 2005

Kwanzaa: Bogus Holiday

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Gail Heriot reflects on the bogus holiday tradition of Kwanzaa:

If you visit a card shop at your local shopping mall these days, chances are you will see Kwanzaa cards. It’s big business. (Well, maybe it’s just medium-sized business, but it is evidently lucrative enough for card companies to bother with.) And if you go to swanky private schools like the one attended by the children of my fellow Right Coaster Chris Wonnell, you may well receive instruction on this traditional African-American holiday. Taking Kwanzaa seriously is all part of the spirit of multiculturalism.

Except, of course, Kwanzaa isn’t traditional at all. It was invented in the late 1960s by convicted felon Ron Everett, leader of a so-called black nationalist group called United Slaves. I use the word “so-called” because United Slaves’ veneer of black nationalism was very thin; most of its members had been members of a South Central Los Angeles street gang called the Gladiators, just as the Southern California chapter of the Black Panthers had been members of the Slauson gang.

In the early 1960s, these gangs were mostly concerned with petty and not-so-petty crime in the Los Angeles area, including the ever-popular practice of hitting up local merchants for protection money. By the late 1960s, however, they discovered that if they cloaked their activities in rhetoric of black nationalism, they could hit up not just the local pizza parlor, but great institutions of higher learning as well.

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