OPINION | What is Thanksgiving to minorities?

Doxey Kamara, Intersections Editor

Matthew Tate

Thanksgiving’s origin story claims that the pilgrims, newly arrived to America, shared a peaceful dinner with friendly Native people, who teach the pilgrims how to survive in the “New World” they’ve arrived to. Now, in honor of this festival, Americans hold their own dinners — typically with family and friends.

And for the white American, that’s all Thanksgiving has to be: a meal. But what about everyone else? What does the holiday mean to the Black American, who would never have been invited to that table? To the Native American, whose land was stolen by force? What does Thanksgiving mean to the American minority, and should we celebrate it at all?

The American minority is in a unique position when Thanksgiving comes around every year, as these questions — much like the holiday — do not go away. History does not disappear and neither can the atrocities committed throughout American history. It is increasingly difficult, particularly today, to celebrate a holiday dedicated to colonization’s first steps.

One could argue that the past is past — that the slaughter of the Wampanoag sixteen years after the first Thanksgiving is no longer relevant, or that the Trail of Tears is not a recent enough tragedy to care about. In the same way that one might claim that America’s history of racism is no longer relevant to American politics, one might also claim that the crimes committed against Native Americans have no bearing on today’s Thanksgiving.

But such willful ignorance only lasts for so long. There is a point where one realizes that the holiday arguably celebrates colonizers, and America’s colonization was a bloody and cruel process. At this point, one is forced to understand that the myth of a peaceful relationship between the colonizer and the colonized cannot be reconciled with the reality that is American history.

When the Thanksgiving story is revealed as a myth, what do Americans celebrate? What is there for the minority, who will not celebrate a lie?

An annual march known as the National Day of Mourning, dedicated to acknowledging the past and present pain of Native Americans, might fill the void. The physical event takes place at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts but it can be honored without travelling there. Commemoration, according to the United American Indians of New England, can take place outside of the march.

Thanksgiving day can be treated as a teachable moment, an opportunity to educate family and friends. The tradition of a Thanksgiving dinner brings a tradition of conversation, and the conversation can absolutely revolve around the myth of Thanksgiving or the significance of the National Day of Mourning.

Beyond that, one could also amplify indigenous voices and support other indigenous struggles. Advocating for other minorities, be it through political action or simple conversation, is a valid way to support the National Day of Mourning. 

This Thanksgiving, instead of celebrating a lie, American minorities should celebrate each other.