“If you have known Success you have known luck, and you owe a debt, not just to your gods, but to the unlucky”- Michael Lewis
Growing up, Thanksgiving was my favorite Holiday. It was a time when my busy parents were both free from work and my family would hop in my mom’s big maroon Honda Odyssey and venture across Missouri to my grandmother’s house to be greeted by a meal of my favorite foods and hours of football on television. However, as I have grown older and become more socially conscious, I have come to realize that it is not enough to merely be thankful, but rather, to interrogate the genocide upon which my idyllic childhood was built upon.
Thanksgiving, every year, is time when social media, television and football commentary are full of meaningless platitudes about being thankful about living in the so-called “freest, richest and greatest country in the history of the world.” While these are very clearly things to be thankful for, that framework of thankfulness reduces the American story and demonstrates a narrow perspective. I suppose that these are things that have come by random chance, that it is just a matter of being blessed. This discounts that all these things have come at the expense of others.
I, along with my fellow Americans, am engaged in an ongoing genocide of the indigenous people who populate this continent. The ideas which underscore unthoughtful statements which accompany modern celebration of Thanksgiving are the same ideas that lead to destructive idea of “Manifest Destiny.” Just like Manifest Destiny held that a divine presence had predetermined this continent to be the white man’s, turning our eyes to the heavens to say “thank you” now implies that we were chosen by God to inherit this wealth.
In its most basic conception, Thanksgiving is the celebration of the collaborative survival of this country’s first European settlers, along with the Native Americans. This, no doubt, is a pleasant history to remember, but it is one that does not bear much truth to the American story. Native Americans in North American history have been pushed away; their humanity has been diminished as an inconvenience.
The things we are most thankful for have come at others’ expense. Our country was stolen from Native Americans, built by slaves, and survives on the work of exploited labor. The people who suffered under this reality are not merely entitled to a “thank you,” but rather, are due reparations for their damage. If you break into someone’s house and steal their TV, you are not merely obligated to send them an annual thank you card. In the same sense, Thanksgiving is an inappropriate response to the plunder that has built America.
It is easy to dismiss these injustices as distant stories of the past, but that ignores present conditions. A recent Pew Research Study showed that one in four Native Americans live in poverty. Nearly 20 percent of Native American households live on under $5,000 per year. The Infant Mortality rate is 8.6 per 1,000 for Native Americans, compared to 6.0 for the rest of the American population. The genocide continues as Native Americans are still restricted to Reservations where they have to face the horrors of poverty at a disproportional rate. People of indigenous descent now only make up 0.9 percent of the U.S. population.
While celebrations of family and togetherness should always be encouraged, this year as we — those who have received the privilege of American society — sit around our tables enjoying turkey, our conversations should include more than the meaningless platitudes of typical Thanksgivings or criticism of Tony Romo; rather, we should work together to reverse the trends of exploitation in American history.