This year I am living in a house with friends, a house that goes off the hook for Thanksgiving. We are having over 30 guests, and are attempting to make as many pies as there are people. Many of the people I am spending Thanksgiving with are people that I care about. Some are people that I love.
Thanksgiving is a holiday about which I feel extremely conflicted, and the character of my friends exacerbates this. My friends are not activists, are minimally aware of social justice causes, and some even identify as “trollers” who “pretend” to believe oppressive things to torment their “friends” (I have severe issues with this model of friendship, as you might guess from all the scarequotes).
Thanksgiving for me is inseparable from the lies I was told as child, the lies I was told by trusted adults and teachers and peers and the television and my entire society. It is inseparable from the ongoing truth of the oppression Native individuals and communities continue to face in the USA. It is inseparable from appropriation and colonialism and the celebration thereof. It is inseparable from my grief at the cast-away opportunity, so long ago rejected and continually thrown away since then, for peace, friendship and respect to prevail in human relations in North America, for honest accounting and reparations. For progress at the very least.
Friends of mine tell me that I shouldn’t bring this up on Thanksgiving Day because our friends know the “real” history, and thus our celebration of this holiday, accompanied by not only a ridiculous amount of food we are incredibly privileged to collectively be able to afford and assemble but also consumption of a great deal of alcohol, is not participating in the pervasive Thanksgiving narrative that continues to whitewash our history.
Not everyone can be an agitating activist. No one is required to be. But it is the shushing, the shutting down of those who point out uncomfortable things, that tells me these people are not only not activists, they are not allies. They are concerned only with their personal comfort and joy, with the world’s myriad problems only as they are personally affected. Yet they have enough conscience, enough sense of what is right and what is just and what is fair to feel guilty about their apathy. My friend who told me I shouldn’t bring it up because our Thanksgiving celebration is not problematic perhaps truly believes this, perhaps my speculative psychology about subconscious guilt is incorrect – but zie is wrong.
Silence is complicity. Obviously, folks have to make a lot of choices about when and how and if they speak up. Sometimes it takes all of someone’s energy to just live their own lives, to make ends meet, to keep their personal sanity intact. I respect and support people’s choices to do so. Yet with that comes recognition that, for change to occur, ALL of us need to try to challenge oppressive narratives in some capacity. Some of us won’t do it. Some of us will try and fail. But if enough of us are trying, change can happen.
My oh-so-enlightened, educated, “with it” friend is not with it. Zie does not want to work for change. This comes from a place of enormous privilege. Zie is not rich, but zie has a job that supports hir and hir partner. Zie is of a privileged race, a privileged gender, a privileged socioeconomic class, and has been privileged to receive an excellent and very expensive education. Zie can afford to not think about genocide and appropriation and continued marginalization every Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving celebration is problematic because Thanksgiving itself is problematic.
Maybe celebrating Thanksgiving at all is irredeemably problematic – I’m not sure. This part of activism (allying to Native communities) is relatively new in my life (I thought about volunteering at an Elder’s Thanksgiving Dinner at a nearby organization for the Native community in my area, but decided not to until I was more involved with the community and would know for sure if it was appropriate to do so). I think the very least that the privileged amongst us can do, on each Thanksgiving, is call out and acknowledge the fucked-up narratives around this holiday and the formation of our country, even if it is only to one another.
I am thankful that someone finally told me the truth. I am thankful that I have the energy and time and economic privilege to be an activist. I am thankful for the people who let me be their allies, and who guide me to be a better one. I am thankful I know better than my Mayflower ancestors. I am thankful for everyone who will speak up about this issue this Thanksgiving, especially when they are not met with support.