Today’s Thanksgiving, and, like a lot of American families, I’ll be doing the whole shabang: a big family get-together, complete with a massive turkey, tons of side dishes, and lots of pie. I’ve had this week off from school in honor of the holiday. It’s moderately cold (I live in southern California), the leaves are turning red, and the holiday season is beginning.
But for a holiday that brings so much positivity into my life, Thanksgiving is a morally complicated holiday.
On one hand…
Thanksgiving is exactly the holiday that America needs. It is a day that forces families to come together, take a break from their hectic lives, and be thankful for the little things. (At least in theory, this is what Thanksgiving does.) At the door to the most materialistic portion of the calendar–Black Friday through New Years–we all pause and eat some food with family. We look back on the year we’ve had and see it in a positive light–what are we thankful has happened to us?
On the other hand…
Thanksgiving has the misfortune (not sure that’s the right word for it) of being tied to one of the darkest chapters in America’s history: the systematic destruction of Native Americans and their culture. Starting with the very pilgrims that children will be playfully dressing up as this week, straight through Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears, to the current day, where Native Americans are stuck on dwindling reservations, America’s disregard for the people who came before Jamestown and Plymouth is as obvious as it is ignored.
In fact, as a child, Thanksgiving was essentially the only time that Native Americans were discussed in school, and always with (I now realize) false positivity. Native Americans were semi-legendary, appearing to help the pilgrims plant corn and them mysteriously vanishing somewhere between the idealistic first Thanksgiving and the Revolutionary War, never to be heard from again.
And that’s a problem.
Thanksgiving currently ties together two incredibly important issues in society: the need to be thankful and the ridiculous inaccuracies prevalent in the way we view our history.
We need to take a day to be joyous with family and eat delicious food and be thankful for our lots in life.
But we also need to stop acting like the “first Thanksgiving” is the only thing children—heck, even adults—need to know about Native Americans.
We need to talk about the horrific
moments themes running throughout American history. And we need to stop acting as though pointing out that (a) racism existed and still exists, and that (b) Americans have made horrific decisions in the past, is unAmerican. It isn’t America-bashing to shine light into the dark corners of our history.
It is, however, disrespectful to the Native Americans who hold onto their cultures—despite the trials they’ve continuously faced—to continue to whitewash their history with this myth of Thanksgiving.
So what are we supposed to do?
I’m not going to stand here and act like I have all the answers. I don’t even have, like, half an answer. But here’s my take on it:
For today, spread some positivity. Be thankful. Tell people you love them. Eat some food and try to be happy and let real life start again tomorrow.
But don’t let the story end. Make sure that you at least think about the trials Native Americans have faced. If you have kids, make sure they know that there is more to the story. (I’m not advocating traumatic specificity, but the broad strokes are important.) Maybe do a Google search and try to learn something about America’s history that you didn’t know yesterday. Most of all, never let yourself hide a historical issue because it is easier to ignore it.
Okay, that’s it.
Go eat some pie.