The only Kwanza(a) I acknowledge is Hall

Atlanta seal

I’m know I’m gonna catch hell for this. First of all, if you celebrate Kwanzaa, I’m not judging you. The Nzugo Saba are real and valuable. For me, it simply it never felt natural. Sure, I’ll go to a Kwanzaa social engagement, but I have no desire to purchase a kinara and do the whole lighting biz.

My reasons are many. Like most American holidays, Kwanzaa is rooted in myth. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

The Kwanza I actually do celebrate is Atlanta District 2 Councilman, Kwanza Hall. He never gave me a politician vibe, as he seems totally at ease at events throughout the city. I chatted with him as I sipped a beer at a 2015 A3C Festival gathering to promote use of the streetcar. I rooted for him when he first announced his later unsuccessful bid for mayor. I was also pleased when he introduced and later helped pass legislation to reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana under one ounce – the closest Atlanta has come to decriminalization. Most recently, I was happy to see his wife Natalie sworn in as Fulton County Commission, District 4.  All these things make me feel hopeful, but this is not a political endorsement.

If anything, it is a way to honor a Facebook status I posted last spring where I said, “Cheer for the guys you know.” It’s a way to acknowledge that the people closest to us are most worthy of our support and attention. In an attempt to look for some grand, shining leader, you miss the leader next door, or even the one in the mirror. As the expression goes, “heroes don’t always wear capes” and they most certainly don’t lead violent sexual assaults or remain silently complicit in the murder of others.

This is the legacy of Ron Everett, better known as Dr. Maulana Karenga. In 1965, Karenga founded a group called Us, a black nationalist group, who engaged in confrontation with the Black Panther Party. In 1969, at a UCLA Black Student Union meeting, after reports that BPP members spoke negatively of Karenga, tensions rose between the two groups, ending in a hail of gunfire, killing Bunchy Carter and John Huggins.

Lesser known, is Karenga’s torture of two women, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis, former members of his own group. There are multiple accounts of sexual assault and violent terror including soldering irons placed in the mouths of the women and one having her big toe squeezed in a vice grip. In 1971, Karenga spent four years in prison for the assaults. The myths created for him lead me and many others to believe he was imprisoned as part of an FBI takedown of black nationalist groups. We know now that the truth is just as ugly and has greater implications for the holiday and its leader as more people become aware.

Karenga’s long legacy of leadership (he is still the Chair of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach) also reveals another sad truth. Too many black leaders’ conflicts, both violent and verbal, have ultimately devolved into a pissing contest to have one man emerge as the HNIC. In the search of a political messiah, the abuse of women was never a barrier to leadership, respect, money or historical honor. Women are treated at best as sacrificial lambs and at worst, collateral damage on a convoluted premise of black liberation. Black solidarity cannot come at the expense of women and if a movement excludes or devalues women, it is simply white patriarchy in blackface.

I also resent the notion that questioning the history of black leaders is somehow a rejection of black nationalism itself, an acceptance of white oppression, or the idea that anything other than monolithic, emphatic yesses are just “divisive” reasons why “we can’t have anything.”

The principles of Kwanzaa are worth celebrating daily and annually, but who among us is truly lacking, especially in Atlanta? The thriving black-owned businesses, black-led media, black cultural institutions, HBCUs and more are indicative of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Yes, we have a long way to go, but we can uphold these principles and more while rejecting a “leader” with a history of violence and misogyny.  I know several people who celebrate, Kwanzaa, though most of my friends, family and colleagues don’t, which I don’t think is likely to change as more people learn about the founder’s past.

So if you’re celebrating Kwanzaa, Habari Gani, but as for me and my house, the only thing being lit will be my social media after this post.

Why gold-diggers make terrible friends

Some of the most easily accessible, yet badly distorted images are of the mainstream media concept of hip-hop. We see a mess of drama-filled relationships, catfights and of course good ol’ gold-diggers over a soundtrack of fully disposable beats.

Before you get fired up in the comments section, let me say clearly: this is not an anti-feminist rant. Feminism is about responsibility and the gold-digger chick is anything but. I’m not talking about the women and girls trapped in the horrors of sex trafficking, I’m talking about privileged (or semi-privileged, educated and or gainfully employed) women who make conscious decisions to manipulate men with their beauty and sexuality to acquire more privilege.

If you’ve had a gold-digger in your life, you probably met her through mutual friends, co-workers or other shared contacts. Early on, you likely mistook her laughter and exuberant energy as the signs of a kindred spirit. You hung out with her because she made you feel “special” for opening a window into her unbelievably awesome world. What you didn’t realize is that her life is a series of calculated, grimy, narcissistic, greed-driven pathologies hidden behind an expertly applied mask of high-end cosmetics.

Everyone is a pawn in her game. You’re no different. She’s your friend because you have something she wants: you work with celebrities, you’re in a well-paying, male-dominated career field where you interact frequently with your colleagues, or you have one or more handsome, straight, single male relatives with money. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you hang with her, she’ll keep you on the come up. She’s totally out for self.

If you’re blessed to have real friends in life, you know that the best moments don’t cost much. They happen over casual meals or coffee where you find peace and humor through the biggest issues and challenges.  The gold-digger is not interested in heart-to-heart talks unless she can make it all about her. Or she’ll pretend to listen intently just to find your weaknesses, of which she’ll remind you in a series of conveniently-timed backhanded compliments designed to make you second guess your success, attractiveness or social skills right before your next outing.

And to hell with your indie rock/underground hip-hop/new soul/art gallery/documentary film screenings – she only go if there are men – lots of them; preferably collectors or corporate types who are into the cultural scene. She’d rather go to parties filled with velvet ropes, red carpets and Bentley-driving ballers.

You’re the quintessential friend with benefits – you provide the benefits of accommodating her massive ego until she moves onto the next one. Quiet as kept, she hates you because she ain’t you. You earn a respectful living while she sold her body and soul to get what she’s got.

No new friends? Absolutely not. A vibrant life includes many opportunities for new friendships; just let the gold-diggers dig a ditch for themselves.

One time for your mind. When rappers could call out ratchetness without misogyny.

What Paula Deen’s statements on race truly reveal

I do not hate this woman. At one point, I really wanted to like her. I am far less concerned about the use of the N-word, than her overarching vision of African Americans as inferior. That appears ingrained in her psyche no matter the words she chooses.

Deen’s well-publicized fantasy for a wedding catering venture involved a concept of all black everything. Middle-aged black male staff members, dressed in white shirts, serving everyone like slaves.  This comes amid allegations from a former restaurant manager that she and her brother contributed to a racially hostile work environment in their family-owned eateries.

To the post-racial pundits and Deen apologists, it is abominable to cast these views as inherently southern. That ignorant and outmoded thinking is simply inexcusable. I can not only count many white southerners as friends, but among my favorite authors and educators – people who challenged me to think beyond my gritty Pittsburgh upbringing and aim for my best self.

Perhaps I should not be so disturbed since I did not pay her a great amount of attention to begin with. Sure, I may have smiled about her victories in the battle of the bulge, which is tough all by yourself, let alone under public scrutiny in a culinary career. And yes, during one Thanksgiving I indulged in some blueberry cobbler at a family dinner from one of her recipe books (belonging to a cousin). Beyond that, I liked her “hey y’all” goodness and started-from-the-bottom-now-she’s-here rise to success.

Today, her high calorie fare and newly surfaced repugnant views have no place at my table.

Deen only let us know that wealth and fame do not change a person, but magnify what already exists. She let us know that while health milestones are measurable, the internal demons she has to fight may not come down like blood sugar and cholesterol after taking the right (sponsored or not) medication. She also reminded us that there is no way to reveal a changed heart and mind, other than careful public relations planning and strategic career moves. It is up to viewers and consumers to take a bite or shove away the plate. A diverse public armed with nutritional awareness and lots of choices may very well choose the latter.

Her apology video is here. Let me know what you think.