Some people think Kwanzaa is great, while others think the African-American unity festival whose celebration starts Friday and ends on New Year’s, is phony and stupid. Kathy Shaidle falls into the latter category, and she’s now apparently in trouble with the thought police at America Online.

Every year Shaidle posts, from her Toronto-based blog Relapsed Catholic (she is one), a Kwanzaa poem. The poem points out that Kwanzaa, far from being the ancient African harvest festival that many think it is, was a whole-cloth invention of one Ron Karenga (ne Everett, but that was his “slave name”), a onetime black radical of the 1960s (his U.S.–for “United Slaves” organization was a rival of the Black Panthers). Karenga founded Kwanzaa in 1966 as a late-December alternative to Christmas, so that black people wouldn’t have to to celebrate a white man’s holiday. The week-long celebration centers around such concepts as “ujima,” a Swahili word that means “cooperative effort” (although in Julius Nyerere’s socialist kleptocracy in Tanzania, it meant “forcing people onto collective farms”). Here’s part of Shaidle’s take on the new holiday:

You don’t get what’s ‘black’ about Maoist baloney?
You say that my festival’s totally phony?

“Who cares if corn isn’t an African crop?
Who cares if our harvest’s a month or two off?
Who cares if Swalhili’s not our mother tongue?
A lie for The Cause never hurt anyone!

“Umoja! Ujima! Kujichagulia, too!
Collectivist crap never sounded so cool!
Those guilty white liberals — easy to fool.
Your kids will now celebrate Kwanzaa in school!”

As Shaidle points out, Kwanzaa is about as authentically African as those green-and-orange striped “Kente cloths” that criminal defense-lawyers used to wear over their suits while arguing on behalf of black clients to black-majority juries. Swahili is a lingua franca of east Africa, not west Africa whence the slave-ancestors of today’s African-Americans were transported. To the average resident of, say, Ghana, Swahili sounds as alien as Lapp. Furthermore, the symbols of Kwanzaa that Karenga invented aren’t really African but Jewish (a seven-branched candlestick), Christian (exchanging gifts), and even, possibly, ancient Mayan (ears of corn).

Karenga, now head of the black studies program at California State University-Long Beach, also had a hard time at first selling the new holiday to his fellow African-Americans, who are mostly Christians, with many fervent church-goers among them. So in 1977, he repackaged the fete as a supplement, not an alternative, to Christmas, and it has since taken off among many mainstream U.S. blacks (although most Caribbean and recent African immigrants continue to scratch their heads over it). Many public schools that now ban any mention of Christmas or Hanukkah on their premises (“winter pageant” is the p.c. new term), feature Kwanzaa celebrations (in all fairness, since Karenga’s a Marxist, his ritual omits any  reference to a divinity).

At any rate, as Shaidle reports in The American Spectator, no sooner did she post the poem on her blog than a contributer to her “comments” section wrote to inform her that when he tried to forward the blog’s Internet address via e-mail to a friend who subscribes to America Online, he received a message informing him that AOL had refused to deliver the e-mail. Here’s what AOL’s canned message said:

The URL contained in your email to AOL members has generated a high volume of complaints.

Shaidle says that AOL refused to respond to her queries about the block, but she has since discovered that the online service regularly reviews and censors the content of e-mail sent to its members, supposedly to filter out spam (which, by the way, it doesn’t seem to do a very good job of, given the number of pitches for porn, Viagra, and debt-consolidation that drift into my own AOL mailbox every day).

So Shaidle is asking readers of her Kwanzaa poem to try to forward its URL to AOL members in order to see what happens. Feel free to try to send it to me: my AOL screen name is charfleur. Then let me know what happens. Meanwhile, Happy Kwanzaa–and ujima to your mother, too!