When all eyes turned to New Orleans, I thought, finally, things will change.
Spare me the school-assembly version of Thanksgiving.
Since I was in grammar school, I’ve seen these misleading reenactments.
The Thanksgiving plays and celebrations glamorize the relationship between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
They falsely portray the Pilgrims as the ones who allowed the Native Americans to sup with them, rather than vice versa.
And they erase the genocide against Native Americans that followed.
The way we celebrate Thanksgiving in this country is — to say the very least — inappropriate.
Few people can even recall the name of the tribe that held Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims. We remember the Pilgrims, not the Wampanoag.
The Thanksgiving story subliminally invites us to believe that indigenous Americans have been offered a place at the table.
Thanksgiving is America’s guilty holiday, a kind of camouflage, a symbolic excuse to ignore the elimination of whole populations of indigenous Americans by disease or war.
The Pilgrims displayed a distinct lack of generosity when Native Americans began dying from smallpox.
“It pleased God to afflict these Indians with such a deadly sickness, that out of 1,000, over 950 of them died, and many of them lay rotting above the ground for want of burial,” wrote William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony.
No, the Pilgrims were not architects of all the injustices against Native Americans. But they set the tone.
We do not have to remain stuck helplessly in a yearly cycle of guilty silence, hoping that Thanksgiving doesn’t seem – at its crassest — to be “giving thanks” for exterminated Indians.
Instead, we should petition Congress to rename the holiday. A more appropriate name would be “Family and Early American Heritage Day” to honor all peoples of colonial history.
That way, we could acknowledge that the Pilgrim Thanksgiving encapsulates a dream of what relations with indigenous communities should have been: peaceful relations based on friendship and mutual respect.
Changing the name of Thanksgiving to “Family and Early American Heritage Day” might make everyone’s holiday meal taste better.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and critic living in Charleston, S.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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