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.