It’s Thanksgiving season again, and even though a big day of food and family seems like it should be a welcome event, I have always despised this holiday. As far as I know, I believed all the construction paper pilgrim hat and feathered headdress stuff as a kid…but kids are smart and a something’s-weird-about-this feeling has always been with me around Thanksgiving. Of course, I now know a whole bunch of things nobody told me in 3rd grade American history.
For many of us, the tradition of Thanksgiving has become a day of expressing gratitude for our many blessings, especially as a more accurate history and the illumination of the darker sides of Thanksgiving have entered our awareness.
If you, like me, are not a Native American and are of European descent, then you might not be here today if not for the generosity and kindness of the original/indigenous people of this country. While we all know this, we seem to be willing to skim over the surface of “truth” and just carry on with the holiday as if…
While some iteration of a shared meal seems to have happened that 1st winter, our behavior ever since—that’s over 250 years—has proven us to be extremely unfriendly friends, unfathomably cruel and violent, and out-and-out murderous to an entire population of humans—the population that made our lives here today possible. Not the model of cooperation and goodwill the “history” of this holiday suggests.
So, a day of gratitude, a day where we teach our children the importance of acknowledging our blessings, while important and valuable, is not enough, especially on Thanksgiving. To heal the shadow of our nation, a nation built upon genocide and slavery, we must commit to telling a truer version of history and learn to tolerate the discomfort of this terrible history…It is time to tell a truer story of the impact our ancestors, the inappropriately named “settlers,” had on this land and its now “other” people.
Our ancestors came here to create better lives for themselves and their children and this is worthy of our respect. They also created a better life for themselves and their children by murdering millions of humans and enslaving millions more. This is the detail we tend to want to leave out—we are helpless to fix or change the past so we may as well just move on, right?
“What we resist persists.” This adage from neuroscience is a valuable reminder that our resistance to going towards the darker side of our history has not made it go away, and maybe some of those original storylines are actually persisting in our current culture. Look around. Recognize the many shadows of the past and see how they are still haunting us. You and I and our children are strong enough to refuse to participate in these historical omissions and strong enough to include the real history of that time as a part of our holiday conversations this season.
Another thing we know from neuroscience is that we are wired to ignore that which makes us feel helpless. So it takes a little bit of extra effort—probably comparable to the extra effort we make to create a special meal or beautiful table, but on the tender side of our emotional scope—go there, please go there, allow truth and tenderness and need for repair to join you at your holiday table this year AND bring your friends and family, you will be truly grateful for the richness of conversation and heart that comes.