Stop Making Jokes About Kwanzaa—Seriously

The holiday that so many like to laugh at is about the same things we take seriously all year.

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Camille Yarborough sings African music behind a traditional kinara during a preview of the “Kwanzaa 2004: We Are Family” festival at the American Museum of Natural History, Dec. 22, 2004, in New York City.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. Or I haven’t, at least, since the days of green-and-red-draped Black Student Union programs in high school.

I admit that I couldn’t list the names of its seven principles and their accompanying meanings from memory if you held a lit candle to my head. A focus on this celebration—created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga to honor African-American family, community and culture, and now observed Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 by an estimated 2 million people—is not a tradition I was raised with or adopted as an adult. And like a lot of folks, I’m pretty holidayed out after Christmas.

But I’m really sick of hearing people joke about it.

I’m not talking about actual humor that’s pegged to a Kwanzaa theme, or the use of the unfamiliar Swahili names of Kwanzaa’s principles as comedic inspiration. Kwanzaa, like most things in life, is fair game for laughs. What I’m criticizing is the practice of mocking its very existence, when the punch line is that Kwanzaa exists.

A friend’s recent Facebook post captured my sentiment about this brand of humor pretty well:

To the person on this morning’s conference call who signed off with a sarcastic “Happy Kwanzaa”—I hate you.

Or “Chrismahanukwanzaakah,” the faux-funny mashup that grates me the same way. Just Christmas and Hanukkah squeezed together wouldn’t have been so funny, but add Kwanzaa—something wacky and foreign-sounding—to the mix and, whew! Hilarity!

And to be clear, I’m not playing the race card here. I know one black person who thinks the funniest thing to say as an ironic hipster greeting, year-round, is “Happy Kwanzaa.”

Not laughing.

Because it feels cheap. And, frankly, sad. Just under the surface of that humor, in my view, are the same basic beliefs about the holiday that Wisconsin Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman expressed when he declared, “Almost no black people care about Kwanzaa,” and called it a “supposed African-American holiday celebration.”