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White Colonialist Mythology PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jenni Person, BT Contributor   
November 2018

Just what does Thanksgiving celebrate, anyway?

TPix_FamilyMatters_11-18hanksgiving is coming, and with it a multifaceted, complicated mess. In addition to all the infamous thorny family issues anticipated as the fourth Thursday in November approaches, there is also the controversy of the holiday itself. It’s 2018, and we seem to have acknowledged as a culture that there is some pretty serious misinformation surrounding what we parents learned in school about Thanksgiving.

We have the research, awareness, and discourse to support that “the First Thanksgiving” in which jolly Pilgrims expressed gratitude to Native Americans for their hospitality was not such a pretty story. We now have the knowledge that we, in fact, annihilated native communities, stole land, property, and peoplehood.

So how do we gather around the table topped with an overflowing autumn harvest cornucopia and celebrate the invasion and attempted erasure of a population? Our kids are learning something so different about this holiday and about our country’s history in school and in life. How do we support that and implement a pedagogy that supports the true history of our land that they already know better than we do?

For many, Thanksgiving has become instead a holiday simply about assessing and celebrating gratitude. That’s a good start in dismantling white colonialist mythology and paradigms, but there is more work to do. Thus, this may be the moment when we follow our kids’ leads. For example, in the name of food for thought about these issues of cultural equity, here is what my 15-year-old had to say recently about Columbus Day:

“Yesterday, I was in the middle of Period 3 when I received a Snapchat notification from my dear friend Kate. I opened it immediately. Staying true to the teenage custom of communicating via photograph instead of actual words, she had sent me a selfie. This selfie appeared to have been taken in her bedroom. Although I assumed that she was simply sick, I proceeded to ask her why she was at home on a seemingly normal school day.

“Kate casually replied that her private school in New York City (definitely not verbatim) isn’t in session on Columbus Day. As a kid that strongly dislikes school, hearing that Kate had off that day instantly flowered my interest. I opened my calendar on my laptop and ‘discovered’ that it was, in fact, a holiday, but not quite ‘Columbus Day.’ Instead, October 8, 2018, was labeled as ‘Indigenous People’s Day.’ Initially, I was thrilled to see an official calendar change as a result of social justice. After internally celebrating for around 30 seconds during my teacher’s AP Psychology lecture, a heavy question crowded my prefrontal cortex.

“Why do I have school today?

“Pump the breaks.

“Miami Dade-County Public Schools had observed ‘traditional’ Columbus Day for decades upon decades (no classes that day, most likely involving some sort of brief activity surrounding the holiday). Somewhere along the way, the board got rid of Columbus Day, with GREAT reason and support from me and my peers. Not only did they get rid of it, but they (rightfully) replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, a much more forward-thinking (AKA historically accurate) celebration of the genuine natives of our country. While this seems all well and good, I couldn’t help but ponder why in Steve Jobs’ name Indigenous People’s Day was being so outwardly disrespected. Not a SINGLE staff or faculty member employed at my school had even gently whispered the name of the holiday prior, or during, and certainly not afterward.

“As for the disgrace of school continuing to be in session that day, why is it that (prior to the adjustment) students got to enjoy a day off from classes in honor of the leader of a GENOCIDE? I generally try to not dwell on the past, but when it comes to the celebration of the deliberate and systematic murder and abuse of thousands upon thousands of people, I tend to have my concerns. The MDCPS school board seems to share similar logic with me, hence their decision to eliminate the observance of Columbus Day, as I stated earlier.

“But why wouldn’t that immediately grant Indigenous People’s Day the same rights to observance as the celebration of the visionary of the pillaging of an entire ethnicity? Shouldn’t this truly historical change be a fairly mainstream dialog between students and teachers? What does this public lack of consideration for Native Americans say about MDCPS’s stance on educating their students about the (seemingly) basic human principle of respect?”

And with that, from our family to yours on this time of giving thanks, from our perch on this land that was once the land of the Tequesta people: Listen to your kids. Respect the earth, its true ecology, and cultural histories. And count your blessings.

Thank you, Goldi LieberPerson, for sharing your thoughts with me and the readers of this column.

 

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