Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

The Dark Underside of Thanksgiving

New Orleans       Thanksgiving is a great holiday in North America, celebrated in both Canada and the United States.  Families and friends come together.  Food seems everywhere. Often turkey or ham sandwiches are stretched out until the end of the year.  It’s less religious than Christmas, but perhaps more sentimental.  Facebook sent me pictures of family gatherings at our house in New Orleans over several years this week.  It was both joyous and heart rending to see all of us together on one hand and to think of those gone on the other.

Then there’s the Thanksgiving backstory and the Pilgrim and Indian myth that enshrouds some of the tradition, and that’s worth remembering, sharing, and then storing in a separate place in the mind so that it doesn’t interfere with the contemporary benefits the holiday brings.  As Philip Deloria wrote in the New Yorker in a piece called “The Invention of Thanksgiving,” the real deal was marked by genocide, greed, bad faith, and an interest in creating a cover story for Jim Crow apologists for the seaming side of American history.

You didn’t just invite Debbie Downer to Thanksgiving.  I’ve already acknowledged it’s a fantastic holiday despite the warped myths and hyper marketing.  Nonetheless, this children’s tale of happy Indians and sanctified Pilgrims is little more than hogwash as numerous historians are increasingly documenting.

As Deloria documents, the Wampanoag Indian tribe had a mutual defense pact with the fledgling colony.  They weren’t invited to some celebration, they showed up ninety-strong thinking they were fulfilling their obligation under their agreement because gunshots had been heard in the colony.  The Pilgrims thought they might have been under attack by the Wampanoag.  They sorted it out and the Wampanoag stayed for three days.

In future years the Pilgrims celebrated thanksgivings often after bloody victories over the Native people.  They liked putting their victims’ heads on pikes for display in the villages.  They sold Indians as slaves and made them indentured servants.  Just the facts, Jack.

Two centuries later, as Deloria notes,

“In 1841, The Reverend Alexander Young explicitly linked three things:  the 1621 “rejoicing,” the tradition of autumnal harvest festivals, and the name Thanksgiving.  He did so in a four-lien throwaway gesture and a one-line footnote….A couple of decades later, Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, proposed a day of unit and remembrance to counter the trauma of the Civil War, and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be that national holiday, following Young’s lead in calling it Thanksgiving….Fretting over late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century immigration, American mythmakers discovered that the Pilgrims, and New England as a whole, were perfectly cast as national founders:  white, Protestant, democratic, and blessed with an American character centered on family, work, individualism, freedom, and faith.  The new story aligned neatly with the defeat of American Indian resistance in the West …. Glorifying the endurance of white Pilgrim founders diverted attention from the brutality of Jim Crow and racial violence, and downplayed the foundational role of American slavery.”

As we sit around the table and count her blessings and feel the warm glow of our families, it’s worth remembering that there are still debts owed and dues to pay.


Pleading for Player Power

Pic-University_of_Missouri_PlayersNew Orleans    In the United States, from place to place, Thanksgiving comes with its own set of traditions enhanced by families and friends.

One of my first Thanksgivings away from home while on my brief on and off collegiate tour, the details are now lost in the fog of memory, but somehow I ended up, likely with a friend, invited by a generous soul to her Italian family’s late afternoon dinner in the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, where multiple courses were served, accompanied by wine, all of which seemed revolutionary to me at the time and for which I am still thankful.  Another year, in Springfield, Massachusetts, my brother came over from New Jersey, while we were living there, and Barbara Rivera, one of our spectacular welfare rights leaders invited us all over to her house for a Puerto Rican flavored Thanksgiving dinner, still remembered by both me and her family.

For years when we were young and had grandparents in the delta of Mississippi, Thanksgiving meant a drive up from New Orleans for family and a feast.  There was always divinity fudge, one of the great inventions in candy-land, and jam cake, which has become a family tradition from grandmother to mother to now daughter.  And, in Mississippi before, during, and after a huge, piling heap of food was offered and consumed I now know not only there, but in much of the rest of the South there was football, one game after another.  Now with its increasing popularity there’s basketball, too.  In the South, there’s also the mandatory nap option that has to be squeezed in during half-times or blowouts.   Sometimes it’s even funny to read in the paper as pro-ballers talk about what it might be like to have a Thanksgiving at home.  The crocodile tears are flowing everywhere now, I know they are.

The business of sports though has become simply sports as business, and that’s not something to be thankful about.  Living in the heartland of the big college football power conference, the South Eastern Conference, where football often seems to pass the line between sports and religion, it may be the biggest business of all.  In Louisiana, the coach has lost three games in a row and despite perhaps the winningest record of almost any coach anywhere, a national championship on his record, and several SEC titles, yet some of the heavy breather alums are talking about paying gazillions to buy out his contract that’s good until 2019.

Meanwhile, one of the newer SEC teams at the University of Missouri may not be leading the league in the win-loss column but has shown how semi-professional college players can stand up for themselves and others.  The NCAA fought the Northwestern players hammer and tong, but despite their billion dollar bottom-line mentality, collective action by the players works, no matter what the lawyers might want and wish.  Now some pundits are calling for coaches and basketball players to get into the act to push back at the NCAA and its unaccountable and arbitrary way of dealing with current and prospective players, including recruits from all over the world.  The price of the first coach standing behind his players may have been the heave-ho in Missouri since even though the President and other bigwigs fell by the wayside, the athletic director was still standing, and may not have been a solidarity-forever guy, no matter what the coach claims.

If sports, professional and amateur, is going to be part of our contemporary culture in coming years, and run as a body killing, youth stealing, child labor sweatshop, then the workers,  paid, unpaid, and exploited need to exercise their market power and bring them to their knees.  For my part I think Thanksgiving and New Years’ Day would be the perfect tactical times for football and basketball players to stand up and stand together to force some change.

I would definitely interrupt a nap for that kind of action!