Thanksgiving Reality Check

November 26, 2014 at 2:43 pm 2 comments

I’ve been seeing various posts on Pagan blogs about Thanksgiving- there are some lovely reflections about gratitude, the harvest and so forth. John Beckett, and others have commented & confronted the increasing commercialization of Turkey Day. But I’ve been disappointed that people have not been confronting the disturbing history of Indian genocide and the false elementary school narrative of interracial harmony between Pilgrims & Indians. (I did see a post about this from one of my fellow ADF Druids) Not long ago, we had Columbus Day (or Indigenous People’s Day) and a decision taking away the copyright on the name of That Team in Washington- which they are still sticking with. Right now we are also dealing with the aftermath of the events and trial in Ferguson, Missouri, another sobering reminder that we are definitely not living up to our country’s ideals of equality and justice for all.

Columbus Day is celebrated in some places with a parade and sales at department stores, but not a family feast. It doesn’t help that many of us have relatives who are already rather racist, even if they’d be loathe to admit it, and outraged if we suggested it. “Racism” must always be conveniently defined narrowly by whites as some scary extremist in a pointy white hood. “I’m a good, fair-minded person, so I can’t possibly be racist” , is what we all rationalize. I don’t claim to be perfect myself- I too am a product of a racist, classist society. I have internalized all the same messages, but rather than unthinkingly swallow them, I try to question them.

I come from a liberal family, the members of which are all pretty aware of the historical facts and fiction of Thanksgiving. I remember my mother, while working at a daycare/preschool, made efforts (in vain) to convince the Powers That Be to change the Thanksgiving decor & curriculum, especially since there were Native children! Still, we don’t talk about it much, and we still celebrate it. I’m not sure how to march in there, and tell everyone we have to cancel this evil racist holiday, without looking like the bad guy. I’m having Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and I already know better than to discuss any ethnic group or non-Christian religion in front of my father-in-law in particular. My mother-in-law can be diplomatic and just “agree to disagree” but my father-in-law will get into diatribes if you let him. I’ve tried to educate and enlighten, but those efforts have been shown to be clearly unwelcome.

So at the end of the day, I’m not really sure if we can turn Thanksgiving into a non-racist/anti-racist holiday, or if we should just observe a Day of Mourning instead, like many American Indians and their supporters do. I guess that larger question is rather irrelevant if I am observing the holiday with people who can’t admit their own racism.

History:

The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag, to have been delivered at Plymouth Rock, 1970

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

American Indians in Children’s Literature- Thoughts on Native American Month (November) & Thanksgiving

I can’t recommend enough this wonderful website by Debbie Reese, a member of the Nambe Pueblo, and children’s librarian. In addition to folks that are raising or teaching kids, it is also a nice resource for adults working on un-learning all the misinformation we grew up with about Indian cultures!

“Happy Thanksgiving!” An American Indian Perspective

The Silly Conservative Myth That Thanksgiving Marked the Day that Pilgrims Gave up on Socialism

I hadn’t heard of this trope before, then again I don’t exactly seek out conservative revisionist history (isn’t that already a redundancy- since they are usually the ones writing the history books?)

The Real Laura Ingalls Wilder story finally published OK, so this isn’t Thanksgiving related, exactly, but like the popular history of Thanksgiving, the not entirely historically accurate (and yes, racist!) Little House books are certainly a big part of American settler cultural identity- especially when you grow up in the Midwest with lots of “Laura Ingalls stopped here once to pee!” signs everywhere. I even jokingly refer to my Dad as “Pa Wilder” after moving us thru so many states- Montana, Idaho, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and while I’ve stayed here in MN, my parents and brother have since moved back to Montana and now, Wyoming.

Modern Reality:

Thanksgiving is Becoming Impossible for Low-Wage Working Women

Queer for the Holidays: When Birth Families Reject Us, We Create Our Own

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Entry filed under: Ethics, Race/Ethnicity. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Support These Awesome Artists this Black Friday! Thomas Morton Day

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. greycatsidhe  |  November 27, 2014 at 3:49 am

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one thinking about these issues.

    Reply
  • 2. caelesti  |  November 27, 2014 at 7:31 am

    I do have an idea for a pagan spin on it- stay tuned for the next post.

    Reply

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