We all know the stories; there are two of them after all.
1.) First, there’s the story we learn about when we are children, or maybe if we are young adults assimilating into American culture. It’s the classic tale about the Pilgrims, or rather the English separatist Protestants who later formed the [Puritan] Plymouth Colony in present day [southeastern] Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island, and the so-called-Indians, or rather the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans, whom had inhabited the land for the previous 12,000 some-odd years. They met and put aside their cultural differences in order to survive the frigid Fall of 1621. Their harvest gathering was attributed, by the Puritan settlers, to an almighty [Judeo-Christian] God, the Father. And it is in this colonial spirit that the American people celebrate Thanksgiving each year on the fourth Thursday in November.
2.) Second, there’s the story we [hopefully] learn about as we get a little but older in our education(s), or maybe if we are wise (or post-modern) enough to critique meta-narratives on our own merits, regardless of educational attainment. It’s the story that is a lot less fun to listen to when we sit down and feast upon a dead bird, I mean turkey. The initial social contracts made between the settlers and the native people only lasted a generation, in which the Puritan settlers’ survival owed great thanks to the Wampanoag’s superior hunting skills and knowledge of the land’s fertility.
“The Wampanoag people do not share in the popular reverence for the traditional New England Thanksgiving. For them, the holiday is a reminder of betrayal and bloodshed. Since 1970, many native people have gathered at the statue of Massasoit in Plymouth, Massachusetts each Thanksgiving Day to remember their ancestors and the strength of the Wampanoag.” -Text adapted from 1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimoth Plantation, 2001, National Geographic Society. Text by Lyssa Walker.
And if you’re unfamiliar with the, “bloodshed,” Walker and O’Neill are referring to, in a children’s version of the story of the first Thanksgiving, by the way, then a better education of North American history is in order: one which begins long before the arrival of Europeans and one that is complicated by the plurality of local narratives. Also, a little accuracy would be nice. To my general horror and dismay, I have come across a great deal of unnerving neo-conservative new media literature – in my research for this blog post alone. And it is disgusting how skewed interpretations of North American history has been convoluted, so as to politicize certain capitalist agendas that are no doubt tied into our [class] discussions of feminism, health and new media.
It is necessary to criticize contemporary interpretations of historical facts so that the systemic erasure of indigenous tribes (via European colonization) does not, yet again or moreover, become eclipsed or occluded by the childish meta-narratives we are all too familiar with. I am not advocating for an overturning of the nationally established holiday, nor am I suggesting that anyone who celebrates the fourth Thursday in November is hypocritical by any means. I believe that offering thanks transcends temporal location(s) as well as any social identity markers, such as race, sexuality and gender. It is a fundamentally human thing to seek closeness with one’s kin, and to celebrate appreciation without shame. I say, let our own local narratives be based in whatever truths we subscribe to.
However, we know this to be far from what [new] media preaches as festive. Like any other national or religious holiday, capitalists have taken full advantage of the spiritual meanings behind people’s cause for celebration and turned out a handsome profit, so to speak:
And to properly interrogate the hegemonic myths of Thanksgiving, one must pay close attention to their developmental paths throughout the [re]construction of American history. Any legitimate critique of racialized and gendered representations need be historicized, that is, accurately contextualized, before we can even begin an intellectual dialogue; the subsequential genocide of Native Americans by European imperialists is not up for debate…
The reason why it’s so important to defend local narratives is because they can so easily get become delegitimized in the public eye (see: Rush Limbaugh’s version of ‘The True Story of Thanksgiving’), endangering social justice strides made everywhere in defense of those who have been persecuted along the lines of race, gender, sex, sexuality, disability, language and ethnicity.