I love the unabashed gluttony of Thanksgiving as much as anyone else, but I take issue with the symbols we associate with it.
From early grade school, we are lovingly spoon-fed images of the European forebears of our government dining harmoniously with their newly acquired Native American peers.
Picturesque as these images are, they misrepresent our history.
The reality is the European settlers extended the proverbial olive branch merely out of desperation. They were not yet able to survive autonomously in their new surroundings, and thus established half-hearted fellowship with the strange people they viewed as savage
The egregious extent to which we have distorted this event is impermissible. It is an injustice to every human life that suffered at the hands of the European settlers.
Over centuries, the European colonists, and later the American government, committed innumerable atrocities against the Native American people. They massacred enormous portions of the population with chemical genocide (the infamous small pox blankets). Those who survived were consistently driven from their homelands.
When at long last, there no longer existed any peripheral frontier to isolate them to, these downtrodden people were violently assimilated into European-American culture, systematically stripped of their heritage. For years thereafter they were treated as a subclass, socially estranged and institutionally disenfranchised.
I am not infuriated by Thanksgiving itself. Rather, I abhor our national perception of the holiday and the subsequent ways we observe it.
Jovially shoveling turkey and cranberry sauce into our faces under the ignorant pretense of historical kinship is morally reprehensible. It further devaluates the Native American people and cheapens our cultural understanding of their suffering.
This might seem pessimistic. Undoubtedly, there are many who would argue I’m just pissing in everyone’s gravy—begetting controversy for controversy’s sake. However, I thoroughly disagree. I think my proposed observance of Thanksgiving would be a much more healthy and socially productive way to approach this holiday.
By reminding ourselves of the toxic animosity of our past, we simultaneously reinforce our compassion. In this way, the future harmony and prosperity of the human race depend on our collective ability to realistically evaluate our past. Maintaining our candy-coated perception of the history associated with Thanksgiving will only inhibit our ability to understand and combat present and future injustices.
Therefore, let us still come together. Let us share bounty with family and friends, but not under false pretense. We must celebrate with humility and shame for our nation’s bloody past. We must collectively hang our heads in mourning of those who suffered.
To truly celebrate Thanksgiving, be mindful of its history and let it inspire you to reach out to some one who is oppressed, estranged or misunderstood. This could be anyone from the homeless person begging for change on the side of the street to that awkward kid who sits in the back of your class and never talks to anyone. Spread compassion in the hope we might overcome the malevolence of our past.
That is what Thanksgiving ought to represent and what I hope it means to most people.