On FOX, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson and Mike Gallagher attacked KwanzaaDecember 23, 2004 5:27 PM EST ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
On Hannity & Colmes, Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson and nationally syndicated radio host Mike Gallagher smeared the African American holiday Kwanzaa and attacked its founder. On the December 22 edition of the FOX News program, Peterson declared: "Kwanzaa is a racist, pagan, Marxist holiday" and then claimed that the "so-called seven principles of Kwanzaa are socialist, Marxist, separatist ideas." Peterson attacked Kwanzaa founder Maulana (Ron) Karenga, calling him a "racist" who "want[s] to get rid of God" and saying he committed a felony in the early 1970s and led a movement "fighting against blacks and whites uniting together." Peterson told co-host Alan Colmes that the United States has no need for Kwanzaa because "we are a Christian nation, Alan, and we already believe in Christ." He declared that if "a white man started a white holiday, seven-day white holiday, black folks would be burning down America." Gallagher, who was filling in for co-host Sean Hannity, asserted that Kwanzaa is a "fake holiday" that was meant to "tweak white America back in 1966" and now serves to "secularize the Christmas season." On December 21, the right-wing website WorldNetDaily.com also detailed Peterson's assault on Kwanzaa in an article titled "Black minister: Say 'no' to Kwanzaa."
As Media Matters for America has noted, Kwanzaa is an African American holiday celebrated in African communities around the world. Observed from December 26 through January 1, Kwanzaa is rooted in "the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name," according to the official Kwanzaa website.
According to Karenga's official Kwanzaa website, which provides English and Swahili versions of the holiday's core beliefs, the nguzo saba or seven principles of Kwanzaa are umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). While Kwanzaa originally incorporated some Marxist elements when it was founded in the 1960s (see the principles of "collective work" and "cooperative economics"), political activist Ameer Barakat (formerly LeRoi Jones) noted that "Kwanzaa has survived [out of all the political and cultural inventions of the '60s] because it's the most easily transformed into commerce," as the Washington Post reported on December 30, 1995. Even right-wing website FrontPageMag.com columnist Paul Mulshine noted -- while attacking Kwanzaa -- that "the capitalists have taken over" the holiday.
Right-wing pundits have often targeted Kwanzaa. As Media Matters has documented, Reverend Pat Robertson asserted on December 6 that "Kwanzaa is an absolute fraud." Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, nationally syndicated radio host Michael Savage, and founder, editor and chief executive officer of WorldNetDaily Joseph P. Farah have also attacked Kwanzaa.
Conservatives, including Peterson, commonly attack founder Karenga, a professor and chair of the black studies department at California State University, Long Beach, as a way to discredit Kwanzaa. Newsday noted on December 28, 2002 that Karenga, the "leader of a Los Angeles-based militant cultural organization called US," served four years in prison, from 1971-75, after being "convicted in the beating of a female US member." Newsday also reported that members of US "confronted and shot Black Panthers John Huggins and Alprentice 'Bunchy' Carter at Campbell Hall." According to a December 30, 1995, Washington Post article, "the FBI manipulated some of his followers in an attempt to 'neutralize' the Black Panthers."
Karenga hosted the 1984 conference that spawned the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, and in 1995 he wrote the mission statement for the Million Man March. Newsday noted that despite his troublesome past, "A network of black scholars now view Karenga as an icon who gave the world a cultural gift [Kwanzaa] that ranks with jazz."
Some African American scholars have remarked on efforts to use Karenga's past as a way to discredit the holiday. The Post quoted Howard University Moorland-Spingarn Research Center director Tom Battle, who said, "Most people don't connect Kwanzaa in any way to Karenga." Francille Wilson, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Maryland said Kwanzaa has "become bigger than Karenga."