Giving thanks?

I’ve been hearing a lot of people express a certain level of guilt about Thanksgiving. About the bloody history underneath the myth of the Pilgrims, about whether it’s ethical to celebrate the founding of this country on the graves of its original inhabitants. While I sympathize with these feelings, I do not share them.

I am happy to celebrate Thanksgiving. I have a LOT to be thankful for. I think it’s good to have a holiday where you sit back and consider those things, and celebrate them with people you love. Of course the mythology is garbage. It’s garbage on July 4, too. And on Christmas, and on Halloween, and on President’s Day. Who could possibly live with our actual history? What society ever has been able to live with itself as it really is? That’s why we have myths.

Yes, we should acknowledge the genocide that stains our history. But rather than atone for it by remembering its occurrence in the past, how about we do as much as we can to prevent it in the present? If the people we slaughtered four hundred years ago suddenly all came back, I doubt they’d be very interested in our apologies. But I bet they’d try to help the people around the world being slaughtered right now.

Slaughtered, by the way, for us, oftentimes. What right do we have to feel superior to the European colonizers of previous centuries? Or to the Englishmen who sat comfortably at their hearths, sipping tea picked under the colonial regime in India, flavored with sugar harvested by slaves in the Caribbean, eating beef exported out from under starving people in Ireland? How is any of that different from our oil and cheap clothing and electronic toys and jewelry? How are the conquistadors different from the corporations and mercenaries who obtain those things for us through murder and torture and repression?

Scolding history is a waste of time, and dead people don’t need our apologies. Let’s give thanks by alleviating suffering. Do something real that helps actual people. Even if it’s not much, you can certainly affect someone’s life positively.

I have some thoughts on some things I might start doing, but I’ll save those for another post. Let me just close by saying I am thankful for all of you, and the things you make me think about, the support you offer, the stories you share, and the communities we all have.

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6 Responses to Giving thanks?

  1. Well said–thank you 🙂

    I look forward to hearing about your ideas (well that goes without saying…but I meant about this specifically :P)

  2. rosefox says:

    Entirely agreed! I think guilt is useless, and often gets in the way of people doing things that are actually useful.

    I do have problems with every single one of the holidays you mention, though. *) MY HOBBY: Taking people literally when they don’t want me to.

  3. How is any of that different from our oil and cheap clothing and electronic toys and jewelry?

    In movies and books taking place a couple of hundred years ago, the existence of the servant class is always jarring. Here the plot is advancing for the principal upper-class characters, and only every now and then is there a quick reminder that there is an entire other group of people in the room being treated like furniture.

    In one of PBS’ “reality” series (I hate to use that term because they really were rather well-done), The 1900 House, where a modern family is trying to live in England like it’s 1900, there’s an episode where they hire a serving girl, but enlightened modern lady of the house just can’t abide the guilt of having someone else do her dirty work, so they turn her away. [To do what, exactly? Wouldn’t it have been better to keep the servant girl and treat her well? Whatever…]

    Sometimes I think about hiring a house cleaner, as plenty of them are about advertising their services, and wouldn’t it be good for me to give them some employment, and treat them well? But something about it just feels wrong.

    So, we don’t sit around with servants to do our housework anymore. Instead, we sit around and let appliances do it. We are saved from all manner of labor by affordable appliances, and the cheapness of our food and clothing, which allows to afford said appliances and modern houses and our standard of living in general. Our ‘servants’ are laborers all over the world. We just don’t live with them anymore.

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