As we swing into full gear around another Presidential election year, I have to say I have not only been sad but I have been mortified by the lies and ignorance being spewed forth by the right wing, who completely own the GOP. There is too much to unpack here to address all of the bigotry, racism, homophobia, and misogyny from ALL of the GOP candidates, but I do need to address their stand on immigration and how it pertains specifically to the Thanksgiving holiday. This past week has been particularly hard given the comments from presidential hopeful Ben Carson, who compared refugees from Syria to rabid dogs, and Donald Trump endorsing a national registry of all Muslims — Nazi much?
I often wonder, do we collectively, as Americans, conveniently choose to forget the genocide of the native peoples living in North America – the use of bio-warfare? Yes, multi-generations of white folk have benefitted from the slaughtering of indigenous populations in North America and stealing land. It is ironic that the early survival of the Plymouth colony depended so heavily on the agricultural and fishing advice of the Wampanoag. To all the GOP governors who say “no” to Syrian refugees, I remind you that you wouldn’t have states to defend in bellicose, racist, and — yes — unconstitutional rants, if a certain set of religious refugees had been treated similarly 500 years ago.
The whole idea of a “first Thanksgiving” is historically murky at best, with both religious and civil harvest festivals easily traceable to the Spanish in St. Augustine and British colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth. The native populations also had histories of harvest festivals, thus rendering a colonizer’s claim of “first” another in a series of misappropriations. Regular Thanksgiving celebrations as fixed civil events became common much later, dating to the 1660s.
As with so much of early colonial American history, most of what we “remember” is filtered through centuries of creative reconstruction: bucolic paintings, myths of noble savages and honest oppressed British outcasts, grade school songs and pageants. It is understandable that we prefer not to dwell on our collective responsibility for the decimation of whole populations, but it is an important part of our nation’s history. The colonizers’ relationship with the native populations was complex (and occassionally grateful) but seldom benefitted the natives and almost certainly did not involve everybody sharing a lovely meal around a table in peace.
Let us not forget this was no mere land grab but a decimation of Holocaust proportions. Our mistreatment of the indigenous peoples in North America went on well into the 20th Century with the Termination Act, Allotment, and the creation of Boarding Schools where white people thought their job was to “kill the Indian to save the man.”
The root idea of Thanksgiving — shared by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples — as a celebration is a good one. Be thankful for what you have; celebrate the cherished loved ones in your life; take time to remember what is good and bountiful with no expectations of gain other than shared love and thanks. Let us move forward as a nation, correctly learning, remembering, and growing from our history. Let us work hard to return to this spirit of Thanksgiving. It need not be buried in any trivia: upcoming shopping orgies (conspicuous consumption), 437 sporting events, overindulgence for its own sake, or cute “historical” imagery that overlooks a complex history.
We all have people and events in our lives worthy of celebration; that is what we should use today to be truly thankful for. I hope everyone reading this blog will be able to spend time with cherished loved ones, be it families of origin or families and communities we create. I leave you with Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Would You Harbor Me.