Thanksgiving - More Than a Turkey Dinner

By Lawrence Ware

It’s Thanksgiving once again: the day every year when we all engage in gluttony to celebrate the fact that White People were saved by Native Americans — at least that is how it has been framed historically.

I was horrified to learn that my son was being taught that the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving is because Pilgrims (read: white people) were given food and learned farming techniques from those helpful, colorful Indians. In class he was shown pictures of happy Native Americans bringing food to joyful Pilgrims — as if the whole thing were a dinner party. 

This is not new.

In America, there is a long-standing tradition of whitewashing the past. History in this country is taught as if only people whose skin was white contributed significantly to America. One of the major reasons why many find the concept of a “white history month” asinine is because in all months save February American history is told from a white perspective. It is the fact of euro-centrism that demands the need for Black History Month in February and Native American Heritage Month in November.

This euro-centrism seduces us into thinking that Thanksgiving should be celebrated because the Pilgrims were able to survive so that they were able to found America. This is a deeply problematic notion. It completely devalues the contributions made by the Wampanoag, and turns a blind eye to the suffering visited upon millions of native people in the wake of that first Thanksgiving.

Let’s be honest: every year on the last Thursday of November, we celebrate the beginning of a European invasion that ends with the death or relocation of millions of native people. While many have tried to redefine the meaning of Thanksgiving into a time when we cultivate a sense of gratitude, the undeniable truth is that the blood of native people stains the genesis of the holiday.

So why celebrate Thankgiving? I think there are a few reasons.

The Proliferation of Native Foods

Thanksgiving is a rare holiday in that sharing food is central to participating in the celebration. The food that one eats during a Thanksgiving meal reflects the culture of the ones that prepared it — food is a product of culture. As Jacqueline Keeler,  a member of the Dakota tribe, stated in her brilliant editorial “Thanksgiving: A Native American View,” “I sometimes wonder what they ate in Europe before they met us. Spaghetti without tomatoes? Meat and potatoes without potatoes?”

She makes a powerful point.

Native people are only associated with select foods: squash, corn, fry bread, and the like. What is not as well known is the degree to which even the history of food has been whitewashed. Europeans are often viewed as the ones who brought culture to native people, but what is not as well known is the degree to which the Europeans colonized native foods. Many of the dishes we consider inherently Italian, Spanish, or Irish would be impossible without the food native people introduced to European settlers. What we eat on Thanksgiving can be a means of recognizing the contributions of native people to our beloved family recipes.

Native History and Culture

Insofar as November has already been declared Native American Heritage Month, we can take seriously the charge to make learning about native culture and the contributions of native people as important as learning about African American history in February.  Native languages are dying, and the survival of a culture is linked to the survival of its language.  There are serious tribal efforts underway to preserve the First Americans’ way of life, but educators can be more intentional about including native language, history, and culture in curriculums in November. Thanksgiving can be a wonderful opportunity to learn about the contributions of native people beyond that first meal between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag.

Take back the night

No longer should we allow Thanksgiving to be about the Pilgrims who survived. It should be about the Wampanoag who gave selflessly; it is not about the beginning of Manifest Destiny, it is a day clothed in melancholy — remembering what was lost.  Take back the holiday from colonial hands. Let us make the holiday about the voices that were silenced instead of the cultural forces that silenced them.

Let us be mindful of all oppressed people during this holiday — especially those who are economically marginalized. In the same way that Thanksgiving Day has been coopted by powerful colonial forces, powerful economic forces have commoditized the night.

Let us honor those who were marginalized by colonization by standing in solidarity with those who are marginalized by capitalism. Across this country, workers who do not make a living, saving wage will stand up for their rights on Black Friday. Let’s stand with them.  Find a protest near you: http://www.blackfridayprotests.org

We shall make Thanksgiving about the oppressed, not the oppressor.

 

Lawrence_Ware-2.jpgLawrence Ware is a professor and lecturer in philosophy at Oklahoma State University; pastor of Christian education at the Prospect Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City; a  member of the Choctaw Nation,  and a member of DSA.

 

For those interested in more information on this topic:

Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World (1988). Jack Weatherford.

Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America (1991).  Jack Weatherford and  J. McIver Weatherford 

 

 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 82 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 47 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 19 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.