How do non-native people in this country reconcile the Thanksgiving holiday versus the National Day of Mourning, both occurring on the fourth Thursday of November?
When I try to engage White people about this, they say Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and be thankful for all the good things in their lives. And don’t want to talk about the many negative consequences for Indigenous peoples that resulted from the arrival of White people.
Thanksgiving is a glaring example of White supremacy and privilege. White people can and do refuse to acknowledge the true history. “Repeating the holiday with no acknowledgement of the intolerance in its history feels delusional at best, if not actively perpetuating oppression.”
Searching for ways to write about this, I finally came upon the following blog posts that express my sentiments. The more recent says, “this year (2020), more than ever, healing is on my mind, and our national fractures run especially deep.” Both blog posts contain many suggestions for things we can do for acknowledgement and healing.
A lot has changed since my last post about this topic, four years ago. Much has certainly stayed the same, too…sparing you the full recap, suffice it to say that #BlackLivesMatter is now at the center of American political activism, and Leonard Peltier remains in prison. We’re teetering on the cliff of irreversible climate change with every passing hour of business-as-usual. Plus, a pandemic. The imperative to teach Thanksgiving as a holiday and to re-imagine it through anti-racist and decolonial lenses is even more ripe today than it was back in 2016.
Before I offer my updated action list, let me offer some timely big picture perspective: Thanksgiving has always been a holiday centered on healing. Lincoln created it to repair a semblance – even a myth – of healing a divided nation. This year, more than ever, healing is on my mind, and our national fractures run especially deep.
I offer these updated suggestions encourage healing – both personal and communal, in hopes they might go a little way toward improving the world.
10 MORE WAYS TO MAKE YOUR THANKSGIVING ABOUT SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE (2020 UPDATE) by Eve Bratman, October 4, 2020
I love that Thanksgiving is a food and gratitude centered holiday. But ever since reading about the actual people’s history of the holiday, I’m more sick to my stomach than excited about eating.
Sure, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. We have our religious tolerance, our tradition of welcoming foreigners… ahhem… don’t we? The story of pilgrim-colonists setting foot into the New World does little to assuage my angst about our nation’s future, because it ignores a lot of the actual intolerance, conflict, and oppression that is deep within our history.
The short version of the real story of Thanksgiving is this: President Abraham Lincoln established the day as a national holiday in 1863. In his words, it was established as a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” but all paternalistic religiosity aside, let’s face it, something else was happening in 1863. A holiday based on a beneficent nationalist myth as our origin story helped smooth over deep divisions after the Civil War. Well beyond Squanto, the history actually involves conversion, smallpox, and having crops and land indelibly altered within the Colombian Exchange. Our social worlds and our ecological landscapes were indelibly marked by imperialism. Small wonder, then, that the fourth Thursday in November is marked by native peoples with a day of mourning and ceremony at Plymouth Rock.
Let’s face it: white supremacy is actually deeply embedded in Thanksgiving. Funny I should mention those words, “white supremacy”, right? Didn’t we just this week read about people known to hold racist beliefs becoming nominated to the highest offices of our government? Our history has a lot to do with why – and how – it came to this. We haven’t yet come to terms with our nation’s racist and genocidal past, and even our textbooks barely teach this stuff.
I want to make this Thanksgiving more deeply anti-racist, ecologically rooted, and anti-imperialist. I don’t have all the answers, but I don’t want to be paralyzed, either. Repeating the holiday with no acknowledgement of the intolerance in its history feels delusional at best, if not actively perpetuating oppression.
TEN WAYS TO MAKE YOUR THANKSGIVING ABOUT SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE by Eve Bratman, November 23, 2016