It seems that whites feel that they now have political license to speak their minds against minorities.  Well, surprise, minorities are allowed to have an opinion on whites – and it’s not always one of admiration or fear.   Here’s my rant – in the context of what’s considered a quintessential “American” holiday.

I’m not shy about telling people that my family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I usually just get a puzzled stare in return. If pressed, I answer with a, “Well, my family is vegetarian…,” and I leave it at that.

Which is true. We’ve been vacationing out of the country for the past few Thanksgivings, but if we are in town and get together with family, our dinner spreads usually consist of various derivations of sambar and rice.  However, for me at least, there are other reasons why I don’t feel Thanksgiving is worthy of celebration.  Reasons which, in this year – the Year of Trump – have ripened into an actual hatred for the holiday.

I proudly served as an attorney for the Oneida Indian Nation in New York for several years.  I have read a lot about the holiday.  To me, Thanksgiving represents a sort of “original sin” of White Europeans.  It’s a sin of a failure to process perspective.  The notion that whites can descend upon foreign lands and claim them as their birthright is perhaps one of history’s most apocalyptic failures of perspective.  Of course, at the time of the “first Thanksgiving” the story was not yet one of conquerors and conquerees, but the deafening aftermath of what ensued certainly germinated from the seeds that were sown during this time.  No one really talks about this aftermath – it’s not a very pretty picture and doesn’t sync with the fairytale still pushed on many schoolchildren today.

I come from a country that was exploited by the British (and the French…and the Portuguese…) for over 200 years.  The same breed of White Europeans who maliciously massacred shameful numbers of Native Americans and had the brilliance to count African slaves as 3/5 of a person stole not only jewels and tangible riches from my country, but also the dignity and freedom of my people.  They cunningly pitted factions of religious groups against each other and tauntingly left us with a bloody partition on their way out.

These are old wounds.  Forgive and move on.  Sure, I can do that.  I have a fair number of British friends, and I don’t hold them accountable for what happened in the past.  At the same time, I won’t glorify any lingering legacy of British rule.  I teach my children that eating rice with your hands is no “less dignified” than eating with a spoon, and that lungis and dhotis are just as “civilized” as trousers.

Thanksgiving is just a day to be with your family and to be thankful.  Is this why schoolchildren are made to craft paper pilgrim hats and “Indian” headdresses and to re-enact the “first Thanksgiving?”  Is this why there is not even a whisper of what really happened during this time?  Does anyone ask kids:  did the white people have the right to do what they did?

Even in diverse Southern California, I watched in abject frustration as my daughter, who attended an exclusive private school for 3 years, was subjected to these myopic perspectives of Thanksgiving.  The first year, her naïve (albeit well-intentioned) teacher did have the class make those paper pilgrim hats and “Indian” headdresses.  When my daughter came home (with her “Indian” headdress, of course), I simply had a chat with her: my version of Native American history for a 5-year-old.  (The school also holds an annual campus-wide Thanksgiving feast, to which I never had my daughter attend.  I politely told them our family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving for political reasons, and anyway, they repeatedly ignored my requests to have a vegetarian meal option.)

The next year, the kindergarten teachers huddled and decided that somehow it was appropriate to have 5-and-6-year-olds sit in class and, in an exercise of learning the ins and outs of explanatory paragraphs, write about “How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey.”  Again, I’m sure they meant well, but the anthology of writings my daughter brought home soured my first two days in Mexico.  The kids had taken the writing exercise quite literally and wrote about chopping off turkeys’ heads and feet, plucking feathers, and other gruesome details.  The thought of my daughter, coming from a vegetarian household, having to sit in class and to think about how to kill and cook a turkey made me livid.  They could have accomplished the same goal with mashed potatoes.  I did not hold back my wrath with either the teacher or the school administration Monday morning.  They assured me it wouldn’t happen again.

Failure of perspective.

The educational indoctrination of the Thanksgiving fairytale may at the surface seem harmless.  But implicit in the Thanksgiving story is a validation that the whites had the right to come and conquer in the first place – and hardly anyone is pausing to think otherwise.  Schoolkids, especially in rural America, are not taught the humility that the Earth is not theirs for the taking – an ideology which, ironically, is a central tenant for many Native Americans.  The result is that you have vast swathes of whites stuck in the mentality of colonial America.  These whites have taken it upon themselves to define and to set the platform for “American values,” and they are now claiming America as their own – as their “God-given right.”

Failure of perspective.

So no, I will not forget this past and celebrate this day of “original sin.”  I cannot.  It is my Gandhian protest against the residual vices left over from colonialists and conquerors.  Besides, in our house, we don’t need a day to be thankful.  We are thankful every day.  I swell with pride when my son hugs and thanks me for making the family a healthy meal and when my daughter rejects an offer from her grandmother for a $100+ American Girl doll, telling her that she has what she needs.  In our house, we do not pay lip service to “being thankful” only to march out the door less than 12 hours later to partake in the biggest, most hedonistic displays of American consumerism the likes of which parallel none in the world.  No. In our house, being thankful and being grateful for what we have is simply a part of our daily Hindu life.  Besides, having a “day” for thanks (or any of the other card holidays for that matter) is an intrinsically white, Western construct.

I encourage everyone to discuss perspectives of history with their children.  They are not too young to understand.  If your child’s teacher or school is perpetuating perspectives or myths that are inaccurate – be it about Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, or histories in other countries, speak up and lead by example.  Let your perspective be heard.

The consistent, sanctioned, and institutionalized failure to raise and consider perspectives in history is what led to a Trump presidency.  America is not for the whites.  It never has been.


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