Sunday, December 23, 2007

Our Christmas Wish: No More Cooked-up Kwanzaa Complaints

We bet you never thought you’d hear us say this: Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks is right.

Nonetheless, it is true, and in the current manufactured controversy about Kwanzaa, Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas is either being intentionally obtuse or being driven by the irresistible opportunity for political advantage that comes with his racially-veiled comments.

Pray For Peace

The clerk seems almost orgasmic with his opportunity to use words like “discrimination” and “discrimination against Christians” in his fiery opposition to a Kwanzaa event in the Shelby County Board of Commissioners chambers of the county administration building.

His first email response, sent after an emailed invitation to the Kwanzaa event was sent to county employees, asked: “WHY ARE WE SPONSORING A RELIGIOUS CEREMONY FOR ONE GROUP NOT CHRISTMAS AND HANNUKAH? I DO NOT THINK THIS IS APPROPRIATE!!!!!"

Mr. Thomas’s position is that Kwanzaa is a religiously-oriented event and therefore, he says that Christian and Jewish religious celebrations should also be allowed in the public space. His proof is pretty thin: he bases his comment on the fact that Kwanzaa uses terms like “spiritual,” “creator” and “faith.”

Seven Days

We’re not sure what he’s using for reference, but the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa don’t include any of those words, or anything about religion for that matter. At its essence, the 31-year-old celebration is about seven days of black pride, black culture and black tradition. If and when it refers to creator and spiritual, it’s more in a cultural framework than religious references.

In the interest of complete honesty, we’ve never gotten Kwanzaa, but then again, we suspect that most African-Americans are equally baffled by St. Patrick’s Day and the celebration by many of us of a feast day in honor of the Christian patron saint of Ireland.

In its way, Kwanzaa bears about as much resemblance to a religious event as St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, its tone is more serious and the purpose is more introspective, intended to create cultural anchors and a current of self-reliance for African-Americans.

Talking To The Base

According to most polls, it’s observed by a small minority of African-Americans, but that’s really beside the point. After all, not all Caucasians celebrate St. Patrick’s Day either.

We hate to be cynical, but we suspect that Mr. Thomas’s motivation is as much about playing to his political base as it is to defending Judeo-Christian religious traditions in county buildings. He’s undoubtedly read some of the writings of some Religious Right commentators whose relentless attack against Kwanzaa treat it as it if Western civilization hangs in the balance.

Then again, the founder of the Pan-African celebration didn’t make it particularly hard for Kwanzaa’s critics. When he invented Kwanzaa in 1966, his criticisms of Christians and Christ were nothing short of inflammatory, but it’s worth remembering that it was a time of heightened black pride and black nationalism. It’s also worth remembering that freedom of speech isn’t just restricted to those who say things we agree with.

Rights

There are times when even friends of Commissioner Brooks suggest that she’s stuck in 1968 and can’t escape. Then again, that’s her right, and it’s clear that she has constituents who support her points of view, which are formed by her long-time interest in black nationalism.

All of this is beside the point. At the end of the day, it’s just hard to make the case that a Kwanzaa event should be prohibited in a public building.

After Mr. Thomas appealed his complaints to Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton – who took no action to revoke the Kwanzaa event in the county administration building – he filed a lawsuit Friday in Chancery Court to block it. Of course, although Mayor Wharton sets policy for use of public buildings, that power has traditionally not extended to the commissioners’ chamber, since it is the province of the legislative body, which would likely back Commissioner Brooks’ request for the use of the facilities.

Playing To The Kleig Lights

It’s widely expected that Mr. Thomas’s lawsuit will go nowhere, but at this point, he seems intent on playing to the TV cameras, using any opportunity to position himself as a combatant in the war against Christianity, that fiction espoused loudly about this time each year to rally Religious Right voters and pander to the hysteria that lies at the heart of this voting bloc.

Meanwhile, Mr. Thomas continues to pander to his base with his emotional concerns about discrimination against Christianity. But if you want to talk to him about this, don’t call Monday or Tuesday.

Mr. Thomas and Shelby County’s 6,000 employees will have two days off to observe the most Christian of holidays - Christmas. Last time we checked, no day on the Jewish, Muslim or Kwanzaa calendar manages such preferential treatment.

In other words, if there's a war, it's pretty clear who's winning. By the way, just for the record, Commissioner Brooks is a member of the board of trustees of Greater Imani Church and Christian Center.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

with morons like Chris Thomas pandering to the Bellevue Six Flags Over Jesus crowd, Memphis really doesn't have much chance to EVER break out of its racial polarization that hamstrings us so badly.
I agree, I never thought I'd find myself concurring with Henri Brooks.

Anonymous said...

Nice, SCM.

Though, I thoroughly get St. Patrick's Day. :-)

bob said...

"There are times when even friends of Commissioner Brooks suggest that she’s stuck in 1968 and can’t escape."

Heh. I could be cynical and say that all of Memphis is stuck in 1968 and is in denial about it.

You (rhetorical sense) can get annoyed at people like Brooks and Sharpton because they rub your face in it. Or you can get honest with yourself and realize that we need to have our faces rubbed in it, lest we conveniently forget.

Just because you no longer see "No coloreds" signs, and you no longer hear newscasters say "Negro" doesn't mean we've moved that far along from 1968. Particularly Memphis, the city that has more reason than most others to be in denial about its history.

LeftWingCracker said...

SCM, solid post, Bob, even better comment.

celtic man said...

Keep pandering, you tax suck losers.

Looking for some local work, eh???

How about a Saint Patrick's Day party in the same facility???

Anonymous said...

Is this post Wharton's Xmas day handjob by you dolts?

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that blacks in this town need to move out of their 1968mentality more than whites. I am tired of having my "face rubbed in" something I never created nor practiced.

Save This MG said...

I resent that they are using a tax payer funded facility and not reimbursing the cost. Where was my invitation?

Save This MG said...

AND...if it's not a religious celebration but a cultural celebration then we should be allowed to use the same facility for our gay pride in June and the KKK should be allowed to hold their cultural celebration there. Seems to me that Henri and A.C. have opened a pandora's box of possibilities.

Anonymous said...

While it's easy to lapse into rhetoric about Memphis being stuck in 1968, it's just silly. Back then, there were two white mayors, a while City Council, white majority of county commissioners, white majority of Shelby County delegation to the Legislature. Skip the rhetoric; let's deal with reality where black folks have never had more power, more responsibility, and more opportunity. In the new year, can we just ban all the glib self-righteousness about race and Memphis backwardness?

Smart City Consulting said...

To the anonymous posters whose comments are regularly deleted, if you don't want to hide behind your anonymity and really ask me questions, I'd welcome them and I'd answer them honestly if you can quit acting like a high school kid long enough to have a discussion.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous 11:26: We're not sure what you are talking about, since Mayor Wharton doesn't have anything to do with the use of the commission chambers. The procedure for reserving that room - and this goes double for commissioners - is to call the staff in the office of the board of commissioners and reserve the room.

Celtic man: Boy, you must not read this blog often.

Save this mg: Actually, a number of local organizations use the chambers (and other county conference rooms for that matter) so it's pretty hard to suggest that Kwanzaa is being given special privileges.

One local gay organization did in fact use the commission chambers about a decade ago. As for the KKK, we don't know what cultural umbrella that hate group would fall under.

Anonymous said...

Hey, save this mg, in case you're interested in the facts, the event tonight is open to the public. You don't need to wait for an invitation. Come join us.

Anonymous said...

The stupidest aspect of this silly tempest in a teapot is the way that our TV stations have treated it. With all that there is to report on in Memphis, this is what we get. Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Skip the rhetoric; let's deal with reality where black folks have never had more power, more responsibility, and more opportunity. In the new year, can we just ban all the glib self-righteousness about race and Memphis backwardness?

Amen. As a 45 year old who works side by side and lives side by side my black brothers and sisters who are doing as well - if not better - than I am it gets a little hard for me to muster any "white guilt" for something that happened in this town 30 or 40years ago. Yes, there is racism in this city and inequality does rear its ugly head from time to time - but trust me - it is not just limited to black Memphians.

Char said...

There were 7 things that folk who celebrate Kawanzaa um celebrate... per Chan 13 news this am... the last of those being "Faith". Ok... so they never do actually say faith in 'what' if you will... but if there is to be an argument over it I suppose that would be the point to argue.

Don't they have better things to work on and spend our money on than this? How about the (assumed) homeless dude I seen riding a bike down Poplar Ave today with a Burger King'ish crown on? Couldn't we get him some behavioral health assistance? Or the elderly who have a $400 MLGW bill in the winter time? How's about we pay their bill?

*shaking my head* at the state of Memphis these days. Albeit.. it could be worse. Just ask a soldier on leave from Iraq. (and folks.. thats a WHOLE 'nother blog).

Non Anonymously yours,

Smart City Consulting said...

Char: You make a good point about the depth of needs in Memphis that need attention and help. But at the end of the day, why is it that so many people are reacting so viscerally to a Kwanzaa event. We don't get emotionally invested in Vietnamese, Chinese or Latino events that are happening all around us. Why do you think that Kwanzaa engenders such a reaction? We're not being rhetorical; we're interested in your take on things.

shelbycountytaxpayer said...

I agree with Thomas. She should have spent 300.00 on her own party at the PP. Not the County taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

All of this talk about the big cost of the event is crap. They've opened up the building before on a weekend for the bar association and all those lawyers didn't pay anything. But because it's black people, there's all of a sudden a double standard and lots of talk about paying.

Char said...

Let me ponder the most PC way to answer this and I'll get back with you.

Smart City Consulting said...

Char: No PC required. We look forward to your answer.

Char said...

no PC required? This is my kind of blog. :)

(Alot) of the black population in Memphis think that they are owed something because well.. lots of stuff that I'm sure I dont have to bring up. Yes I know this to be fact and no I am not making an accusation.

When you have the majority of your population thinking that they are owed something... regardless if they are or are not... then egos are gonna clash.

This isn't about Kwanzaa. This is about black vs white vs black.

I'm one of the "cant we all just get along" type of folks. Which gets on some people nerves but I say Hey.. it would be a lot less stress.

I have never had such a negative response to my skin color until moving to Memphis. People dislike me just b/c part of my heritage is Irish (read: very white). I have had arguments with black co-workers/acquaintances over whether or not my family owes their family b/c of slavery (which they don't btw b/c my family never owned slaves) and whether or not "The Man" is holding them down b/c of their skin color.

I think these same folk hang onto that argument so they can use it as an excuse to do whatever or say whatever they want.

Get over yourselves. Try working for something instead of using history as a fall guy. Yes you can and probably are held down by "the man" but you are NOT the only ones.

There is discrimination of all types going on and you are not special just because you are one of the groups that it's happening to.

*sigh* Let me get off my soap box before I start somethin' lol.

ps.
i think it's funny that my word verification is oywus... oy wus! lol lol

Blinders Off said...

I am late entering this dialogue, but I want to respond to Char.

Char what I hear in your comment is FRUSTRATION that has turned into ANGER. This is how Blacks feel, but you all call it whining. You have every right to feel as you do, I have been slapped for what I am about to say and probably get slapped here.

I agree with you about reverse discrimination, it is happening when a minority race is in the majority in a city or company.

You said the following in italic, my response follows:

Get over yourselves. Try working for something instead of using history as a fall guy. Yes, you can and probably are held down by "the man" but you are NOT the only ones.

You cannot dispute the Blacks race has and is treated worse in America and around the world. What do you actually mean about try working for something? How is the history of blacks used as a fall guy?
I really would like to understand your above quote, please explain.

When you have the majority of your population thinking that they are owed something... regardless if they are or are not... then egos are gonna clash.

If I am not mistaken you are referencing blacks in the above quote. (You might be right about many Memphis born), but it is actual a minority of the Black population who believe they are OWED something (reparation). We DO believe in working hard to achieve the American dream. In reality reparation was given to other ethnic groups for the atrocities committed against their people. It will never happen for the Black race and believe me no one (except those who believe it should happen) is holding their breath for it.


Finally,

I'm one of the "can’t we all just get along" type of folks. Which gets on some people nerves but I say Hey.. it would be a lot less stress.

Believe it or not, many of us feel the same way. It would also be a hell of a lot less stressful if people whom knowingly and witness an individual committing a discriminatory action against another individual regardless of his or her race stand up against the perpetrator who is committing the act.

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