This Thanksgiving, I drove to have dinner with my mother and sister, and to video call our relatives. Over a warm dinner ordered from the grocery chain I work for, we talked about one of the customers who had come in the day prior: a young white boy wearing a feather headdress made of construction paper.
He was there with his father and siblings, clearly innocent as the family laughed and smiled throughout their grocery run. In this little boy, I saw a repeat of the misinformation of my childhood, quite possibly without someone in his life willing or able to tell him the truth about Thanksgiving.
It’s been easy for me to think that everyone knows what awful things happened during this “holiday” we celebrate. In other words, I thought that the atrocities committed against the Indigenous peoples of North America were common knowledge. Clearly, however, that is not the case.
I now realize that the true history of the bloody origins of Thanksgiving was given to me to break the cycle of lies deeply rooted in this country — and that is something I am thankful for.
But I can’t see the cycle continue with others.
I hate thinking that young children are still being taught that the “pilgrims and Indians” had a lovely time together, erasing the still-present genocide of the native peoples and continuing the American tradition of writing away our misdeeds.
Seeing this little boy happily parading around in his makeshift feather headdress only reinforced my fears. Headdresses are sacred to many different tribes of indigenous people, and ignorantly wearing this cultural piece made a mockery out of both the culture and the inconceivable violence and oppression that indigenous people have endured over the centuries.
This cultural indiscretion isn’t the little boy’s fault, though. He is just one of the millions of victims of our country’s whitewashed education system, and we see this Eurocentric view of world history still being perpetuated today. Less than three months ago, President Trump announced his plans to create a more “‘patriotic’ education system” that “celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history.”
But what exactly is there to “celebrate?” How we desecrated indigenous land and proceeded to subject indigenous people to hundreds of years of violence and torture? The holiday of Thanksgiving has absolutely nothing to do with truly “celebrating” the indigenous peoples of North America, and this malicious myth only further disfigures the true history of the United States to create a more favorable picture of the Europeans that brutally colonized this land.
It is quite clear that there is nothing to celebrate about the true history of this country, and that this Thanksgiving myth needs to be discarded.
But sitting there at my mother’s dining table, the one that lived through four moves and two of three children, I realized that we can’t abandon Thanksgiving entirely. The myths that we perpetuate around it need to go, but the traditions of giving thanks and celebration of family are dear to the hearts of many.
During this global pandemic, a sense of unity is something that we as a community badly need. Many of us who are essential workers, like myself, are already exposed to hundreds of people each day at our jobs, so the idea of not spending Thanksgiving with our families feels like a slap in the face.
Now more than ever, during one of the most isolating events of the past few decades, we cannot neglect opportunities to honor and foster the relationships we have with one another — our family especially. However, if we do choose to continue celebrating this holiday, it should be with the acknowledgement of Thanksgiving’s violent roots.