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What We Talk About When We Talk About Thanksgiving

November 20, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Happy day of eating and family and rest. Time to breathe in, appreciate your surroundings, and be grateful that you are not standing in line outside Best Buy right now.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. My love stems from a combination of my appreciation for eating, my birthday’s close proximity to the holiday, and that it enables me to see my family, whose company I happen to particularly enjoy. However, I recognize that for folks who like their celebrations with some historical context, even all these holiday benefits may not be reasons enough to find enjoyment in the holiday.

Thanksgiving ceremonially marks a happy meeting of pilgrims and Native Americans from centuries’ past. This day, which puts a cranberry sauce and stuffing shine on a time when the “founders” of this country united with a people they’d later slaughter and nearly wipe out, serves to erase the extremely painful history that formed the basis of this country. Such a story, while heartwarming, perpetuates the idea that our country is and always has been a welcoming tossed salad of shared culture and mutual respect.

But, as I mentioned earlier, this is one of my favorite holidays. How, you may ask, can I love a day based on so much violence? It has taken some time to come to terms with the silent history that runs under this day. I had to recognize head on that my ability to enjoy this holiday free from the racism, imperialism, and colonialism so many across the globe still experience is a huge privilege.

Ultimately, though, I can check my privilege all I want – think about the horrible history hidden underneath the nice story of the first Thanksgiving dinner and agonize over the pain that many people who look like me have wrought on others over the centuries until the stuffing gets cold. But the sad truth is, guilt (whether of the white, rich, or straight variety) is kind of bullshit, guys. Do I change anything when I dwell on the discomfort and pain inherent in any privilege-recognizing experience? Do I ensure that the same oppression that was perpetrated centuries ago is not being perpetuated here, today, by people in my country? Nope. I most definitely do not.

This Thanksgiving, I offer an alternative. Guilt is limiting, guilt is not fun, and guilt helps pretty much no one. So why not choose to see your privilege, instead of debilitating, as empowering? We all know the horrible history behind Thanksgiving. (And if you don’t, read all about it here.) But there are acts of racism, colonialism, and even genocide occurring around the world today. Let’s do something about them.

I choose to love Thanksgiving because I see it as an opportunity – an opportunity to start discussions with people around me, to build positive, healthy communities that won’t stand for violence, and to speak up about the messed up stuff that America is doing today, under our watch. This Thanksgiving, let’s make a pledge to create traditions that our children won’t have to feel guilty about in 100 years.

Maura Kinney

Maura Kinney has been working with Catharsis for several years in various capacities and is pleased to now serve as the Marketing and Communications Coordinator.