Friday, November 28, 2008

cherish fantasies of racial harmony on thanksgiving, instead of facing up to the ongoing realities of division, inequity, and injustice

I don't imagine the following interracial Thanksgiving gathering went very well.

(Alert: profanity ahead)

As for my day:

I watched a DVD that I'd found a few days earlier at my local library. Along with those who were willing to watch it with me, I learned about the histories of the Native Americans who used to live where I do now, before people of my race sent the few remaining ones out to western "reservations."

I also took my dog for a long walk, and tried to imagine what this area and its people were like back then, before my people stole it. I struggled with how I should feel about that, and what I could do about it.

Along the way, I told a friend who greeted me with "Happy Thanksgiving!" that that was a terrible thing to say, and that I wasn't feeling "thankful" for the results of the genocidal past that landed me here. That literally "landed" me here.

Later, during the annual Big Dinner, I insisted on an awkward moment of mourning and reverence for the absent peoples, the original inhabitants, who taught my ancestors how to raise and prepare several types of the food we were about to eat, and some of whose remains might be right here, underneath us. I hoped that the moment was something more than a mere empty gesture.

All in all, it was still good to be with family that I usually only see on such days.

How did your day go, and if you had one, your gathering?


  1. I like the idea of a moment of silence. I too have been trying to think about how to respect the truth behind the myth of this holiday, but I also still want to take advantage of the chance to be with friends & family.

    Sigh. It's all so morally ambiguous in my little mind.

  2. I'm did your comments to your family go over? Do they agree, are they alienated, how do they react?

  3. As I wrote in the post, the moment was awkward, since the gathering included an array of political (and apolitical) views, but the comments went over well enough. Some bowed their heads a bit, and I didn't see any rolled eyes. One person thanked me afterward for providing her with a different perspective on the custom that is this kind of food-oriented gathering, and she watched the DVD with me too. The adults pretty much all know where the others stand on such issues, and more or less respect that, so if anyone felt alienated by my request, they didn't show it in a way that I could see.

  4. Are you being tongue-in-cheek or are you really this intense? All of the time?

    There is nothing empty nor mythical about being thankful for our many blessings.

    Despite everything, there really is so much beauty in the world. Really.

    Lighten up, Francis. :-)

  5. and the genocide dinner continues. over 1 million Iraqis dead as a result of our Imperial actions. I am thankful for my family and I want to be proud of my country. but, I cannot look at my daughter and tell her that I am proud of the murder of millions committed by our previous and current generations.

    there is no getting around it - we're living off the fat and blood of others, not by chance but by deliberate actions.


  6. Leigh wrote,

    Are you being tongue-in-cheek or are you really this intense? All of the time?

    There is nothing empty nor mythical about being thankful for our many blessings.

    Hi Leigh. As I wrote in this post, it was still good to get together that day with family I don't see much otherwise. No, the post isn't tongue in cheek, and no, I'm not that intense all of the time.

    However, I do think there's something "empty," as well as lazy, complacent, and insidious, about being thankful for my many blessings (which I am) without acknowledging where they came from, and at what cost to others. Especially on THAT day, which is based on a mythical, feel-good fantasy about genocidal race relations, which continue to benefit me. I don't think I'm being "too intense" when I find ways on "Thanksgiving Day" to at least keep such things in mind, and to remind others of them; I also think I would be something like the opposite (willfully oblivious?) if I knew such things and kept them all shut away on that day, which I think should be a day of national mourning. If we're so intent on having a special day of thanks for all of our "blessings," why not set up another day for that?

  7. GOL, Leigh. But I don't think Macon's being too intense. He's being too preachy and priggish.

    I mean, he mentions how suddenly "awkward" it got at the dinner, but OMG, awkwardness was clearly what he was after. That moment of silence, along with the aggressive comment he made to the neighbor who dared to say hi to him, just makes such a show! And so the silence he met at the dinner table, I assume, was the awkward silence of his more gracious hosts, whom he's just insulted, trying to figure out how to tiptoe past the fact of a guest who has just embarrassed himself by (1) speaking to everyone else at the table as if they were, I don't know, eight, and (2) being really hypocritical, because if he's that offended, he shouldn't have been at a Thanksgiving dinner at all. No one wants a fight at the dinner table in our argument-averse culture, and so what you get is this silence while someone thinks of something to say to placate him, get him to shut the fuck up and pass the hard sauce ("Thank you for the alternative perspective," whatever it was that lady said). I wasn't there, but I would say it was probably not the silence of people who are struck dumb by the shocking revelation that the United States exists on stolen land, because we all know and accept that. Or if he says that no, he doesn't accept it, I'll also assume that he is not a part of the rent/mortgage economy built on that stolen land, because if he is, I would say he lacks the moral high ground necessary to make his response to Thanksgiving something more than bromide.

    The headline to this whole string seems to indicate something about how white people need to "face up" to this facet of American history. But of course everyone learns about this stuff in the fifth grade or so. So I assume that by "facing up" Macon means doing something with that knowledge, using it change our behavior in some way. If that change in behavior basically comes down to running his mouth for a few minutes just before tucking into a dinner someone else has made for him (like the tiresome uncle who insists on saying grace every year and who then disappears when it's time to wash up), well ... that sounds to me like the emptiest gesture of all.

  8. Anonymous, you're doing a lot of assuming here. First of all, I was the host, and I did all of the cooking. And I obviously disagree with your apparent claim that those who see a problem or injustice should sit back and shut up if they're in any way a part of the problem. After all, nearly all of us are implicated in some ways.

    I don't think that everyone learns the realites of American genocide, conquest, and empire "in the fifth grade or so," nor even later. They may learn that what they're living on is stolen land (though I suspect such a description is still rarely used), but what they also learn is a cherished fantasy of racial harmony in regards to "Thanksgiving." Most go on to blithely, obliviously celebrate that, along with being thankful for their own "blessings," and remaining oblivious, again, about where what they have really came from.

    As for my lack of a moral highground, I never claimed that I have one; I don't think a person needs one to speak up against cherished delusions, nor against division, inequality, and injustice. As for whether the one who's speaking up is perceived as "preachy" and so on, that partly depends on how one speaks and acts. As I said above, no one at the table rolled their eyes, and how I spoke had as much to do with that as what I said.

    As for "changing our behavior," that's up to others. I think it would be "preachy" of me, as well as ineffective, to tell people what they should do differently on this day, or others. Maybe some of my guests will become more aware of today's Native Americans, in part because of the DVD that some of us watched. Maybe some will feel less self-satisfied and deserving of their unearned privileges. Who knows what they'll do with whatever I said and did to encourage such awareness. But some might do something, which is more than what would've happened if I'd taken your advice and kept my thoughts and feelings to myself.

    I'm not saying that what I said and did that day against the cherished fantasies of Thanksgiving was enough, but I still disagree with your claim that it was worse than saying and doing nothing.

  9. Anon...LMAO about your comment, "Shut the f*** up and pass the hard sauce."
    This Catholic mommy thinks that is a keeper.

    Macon...I wasn't intending to be glib with my comments in response to your sincere post about the hypocrisy of the Thanksgiving holiday. I, too, care deeply, I dare say passionately, about some very serious, very real societal and cultural issues. In fact, I nearly ruined a family dinner several months ago when I challenged my brother-in-law after he declared his intention to vote for Barack Obama. As a Catholic Christian, such an action is patently inconsistent with the teachings of the Church. And I told him as much. In this instance, I thought I was justified in leaving the poop in the punchbowl, so to speak, if it meant that our Catholic family could have a real discussion about the potential death of millions of children under an Obama administration. Not everyone agreed, as you can imagine. Here in the midwest especially, folks tend to eschew any form of dialog that has the potential to kill a buzz. Needless to say, pro-life/pro-choice conversation is never considered light dinner party banter.

    So, my point is...I know what it's like to feel passionately about something--to the point that you make others feel uncomfortable. However, now that I'm growing a bit longer in the tooth, so to speak, I've learned that gentle, incremental persuasion is more effective over the long haul. When you get preachy and sanctimonious, folks run for the hills--even when you've got truth and righteousness on your side.

    Having said this, however, I think your blog is inspired, well written, and carefully crafted. Hence, the reason I keep checking in.

    Just pace yourself, friend. And smell a few proverbial roses when you can. It 'aint all so doom and gloom.

    God bless.

  10. My white family listened to punk rock and chowed down on turkey. So I guess it was half heavy, half fun. or all fun depending on how you feel about punk rock ;)

  11. After talking to and with many white people, I've reached the conclusion that talking to and with white people about race, racism, white supremacy, inequality, and injustice, is meaningless. It appears that since, whites receive such benefit from the system of white supremacy, there is not need to acknowledge the existence of such system because it then bares the responsibility of the benefactors to replace the system of white supremacy and inequality to a system of justice. This is why, i believe, many whites, with their vast knowledge of history, will deny all day long the degree to which the truth exists. Despite the fact that MANY whites acknowlege-in private-that they benifit from a system of white supremacy, they will not publicly acknowledge because they do not want to discredit some of their achievements. Thus talking to whites about race/racism/white supremacy/inequality is USELESS!


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