The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Gobble, Gobble.

If you think I’m going to say what you think I’m going to say about Thanksgiving, well, I already did and it went over like a lead balloon. Boy, do people not what to hear about that stuff. Thankfully, this year other people are talking about that stuff.

Teacher Bill Morgan walks into his third-grade class wearing a black Pilgrim hat made of construction paper and begins snatching up pencils, backpacks and glue sticks from his pupils. He tells them the items now belong to him because he “discovered” them. The reaction is exactly what Morgan expects: The kids get angry and want their things back.

Morgan is among elementary school teachers who have ditched the traditional Thanksgiving lesson, in which children dress up like Indians and Pilgrims and act out a romanticized version of their first meetings.

Morgan said he still wants his pupils at Cleveland Elementary School in San Francisco to celebrate Thanksgiving. But “what I am trying to portray is a different point of view.”

Others see Morgan and teachers like him as too extreme.

“I think that is very sad,” said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former college dean and public high school teacher and now a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization. “He is teaching his students to hate their country. That is a very distorted view of history, a distorted view of Thanksgiving.”

You know, the stuff we’re not supposed to talk about today.

That the world’s great powers achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.

But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin — the genocide of indigenous people — is of special importance today. It’s now routine — even among conservative commentators — to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.

One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of U.S. myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.

… Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.

And the kids in Bill Morgan’s class? Well, they probably won’t be assigned to read Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold: Europe’s Conquest of Indigenous Peoples or Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present, so they may not learn the rest of the story, beyond the “caring and sharing” of the first Thanksgiving, until they’re much, much, older. If then.

I’ll keep my copies of those books on the bookshelf, though, in case they’re needed to supplement my kids’ education on the subject. But I’m even going to try and talk about it to anyone else. I’m not even sure how we’re supposed to talk about. (Or when we’re supposed to talk about it. Or if we’re supposed to talk about it.) And since the reality is that I have European ancestors, and live on land that was stolen from someone, and eat food that was grown on land that was stolen from someone, etc., maybe I can’t talk about it at all. (Fortunately, William Burroughs could.) Or maybe I can, if I compartmentalize it down to that one dinner on that one day in history, and nothing else. But all that’s been said already.

So, you can go read the rest of it somewhere else or just go eat some turkey. Me? I learned my lesson. I’m gonna eat my tofurky and shut up.

I’m still gonna wear black, tho’, as I did on Columbus Day.

Happy Thanksgiving.

One Comment

  1. I agree with so much you write, and respect so much, but on this I’m in total disagreement. It’s not so much that we don’t want to talk about it, is that we think the concern is misplaced.

    I still that you are confusing the history of Thanksgiving with the history of the ‘white’ man’s atrocities. Sure you can put the two together, but Thanksgiving is SOOO much more than that.

    As I said a couple years ago:

    And in this family, we celebrate Thanksgiving as much, if not more, for the reason that Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863 than anything:

    In “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience” and to “to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

    Wear black if you want, we are celebrating our favorite holiday with abandon.