“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock was landed on us.” ~ Malcolm X
Last Wednesday, I posted a message that we, at 2 Dope Sistahs, were on holiday. I wished everyone “a happy and safe holiday weekend.” I was originally going to write “Happy Thanksgiving,” with the graphic above, but I just couldn’t bring myself to post that.
In my family, we have never embraced the traditional, sanitized version of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. And there certainly has never been anyone at our house dressed as a Native American or even a Pilgrim. I have considered it a time to take a break from classes; to catch up on work; to visit and spend time with family; and to enjoy an excellent, extremely fattening home-cooked meal.
In years past, my Thanksgiving was also tempered by attending a roundtable called “Thanks-taking,” sponsored by American Indian Studies at my alma mater. I know that for many Indigenous people, this holiday is considered a Day of Mourning to commemorate the struggles of their ancestors and to provide a counter-narrative to the mythology of Thanksgiving through (re-)education.
As a historian, I am constantly engaged in “myth-busting.” Perhaps that is why I am conflicted about Thanksgiving. I have similar feelings about Independence Day, which I usually refer to as “The Fourth.” The American Revolution did not bring freedom to enslaved African-Americans. Although I enjoy a good fireworks show as much as anyone else, the Declaration of Independence did not apply to my ancestors. In fact, the Constitution acknowledged the rights of slaveholders and made sure that Americans could continue to import additional African slaves until 1808. So, on the The Fourth I wake up and read Frederick Douglass’ What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.
So, what is the answer? How can socially aware people celebrate this holiday of thanksgiving that also symbolizes genocide, war, enslavement, land appropriation, and forced conversions to Native People? I will continue the tradition of fellowship and food. Aside from that, I think the answers are education and open dialogue. We must begin to acknowledge our complicated history by listening to the voices of people that have often been marginalized.
In 1970, Wamsutta James, a Wampanoag man, was prevented from giving his intended speech at the 350th anniversary celebration of the Pilgrims landing in Massachusetts because it was considered “inflammatory.” Why don’t we start the dialogue there?