The Fourth Day of Kwanzaa
Today marks the Fourth Day of Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday, created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga in response to the Watts' Riots. Karenga wanted to give "blacks an alternative to the existing holiday [of Christmas] and give blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning "first fruits," mimicking first fruits festivals celebrated in Southern Africa around the winter solstice. Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through January 1 each year, and features a candle lighting ceremony similar to the menorah for Hanukkah. For this holiday, the candles or mishumaa saba are the red, black, and green, of the Pan-Africa flag. Each day focuses on a specific principle of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. These seven principles are:
- Umoja (Unity)
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
- Nia (Purpose)
- Kuumba (Creativity)
- Imani (Faith)
Tonight, the focus is on Ujamaa or Cooperative economics. It focuses on the African-American community building and maintaining their own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together. It's a recognition of the importance of supporting black owned businesses, promoting economic growth within that community.
Here's why that matters. The average African-American family household today makes only 60% of the income of the average white American family household. When you compare wealth, that is when you compare what is passed down through families, African-American family households today have 10% of the wealth of the average white American family. Household wealth is what allows for inheritance, the starting of new businesses, protects against catastrophic downturns, sends kids to college, etc. In other words, household wealth is what moves people from one income level to another, from poor to middle class, and onward.
It's why you saw movements like Blackout Tuesday and incentives to Buy Black and support Black artists in response to the spate of African-American deaths at the hands of the police earlier this year. It's a greater recognition of the need to effectuate economic equality as part of racial equality. And it's something we should all be paying attention to.
Think on this - despite accounting for 12.8% of the United States population, African-Americans account for only 5% of CEO level positions in companies across the United States. Looking at my profession, just 4% of attorneys are African-American. Unless those numbers become more reflective of our society, the economic landscape will continue to look the same.
We can and should do better.
To those celebrating Kwanzaa tonight, Joyous Kwanzaa.
To those who are just learning about it today, let's do our part as well.