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A Thanksgiving Truth Telling Challenge

fire

For me, Thanksgiving has always been a day of family, food, and games in front of the fire. When I was younger, the holiday included colorful tales of the Pilgrim’s brave Atlantic crossing, brutal first winter, and harmonious celebratory feast with ‘The Indians.’ No one challenged the peaceful narrative in my segregated, comfortable, white world because along with the turkey and mashed potatoes another tradition was being upheld: the white tradition of segregation, comfort, and avoidance of truth telling.

Tday dinner

Somewhere along the way, I suppose, the truth had gotten lost. And long before that, the truth tellers had been silenced. When my own children were young, I carried on the tradition, creating for them a white world of comfort, which included avoiding truth tellers — simply by remaining segregated in a white world where not seeking alternative perspectives was the norm. One result was the continuation of an annual gathering marked by fanciful tales of Pilgrim hardiness and overall awesomeness. 

pilgirm napkinds

The more I learned about what really went down in the decades following white Europeans’ invasion of this continent, however, the more conflicted I felt as I complied through the tradition of polite conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Feelings of grief and horror at the destruction of native nations would bubble up. The fear that broaching the topic would land me in the doghouse amplified those feelings. This is how oppression works. Silence and avoidance keep us all in our place.

interrupt

Finally, I broke the silence. And guess what? My family still loves me. Even better, we're learning to have couragous conversations about all kinds of things. Ironically, the more America denies its history of racism and oppression, the more racist and oppressive we become. It’s a vicious cycle begging for interruption through truth telling. And what better time to do it than at a family forum such as the Thanksgiving dinner table? So, are you up for the challenge? In the name of breaking the white tradition of segregation, comfort, and avoidance, are you willing to move beyond polite conversation this Thanksgiving?

courage as love

Quick Tip: Don't be a jerk. Set a loving and inclusive tone. I learned this the hard way.

quick tip

Don’t shame people for ignorance. We’re all where we are and everyone of us has lots of room to grow.

Do create a sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’ Let’s learn together about what it is we might not know we don't know.

 

tgving time to genocide

Below are three ideas to spark a courageous conversation about the implications of America’s Thanksgiving holiday.

Language Choice ~ Who refers to the Pilgrims as settlers? Who refers to the Pilgrims as invaders and terrorists? Which term has historically gotten more airtime and why? Where are various family members in their awareness of these differing perspectives? Where have they learned what they know?

The Silenced Perspective ~ Explore how Indigenous People think and feel about Thanksgiving by reading these or other resources created by Native Americans.

Indian Country Today Media Network – 6 Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know

United American Indians of New England – Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning

Who in your family has/has not heard this perspective before? Why is that? Why do you think schools continue to avoid teaching the Native American perspective? Who does it serve to not share these perspectives?

Can We Talk? ~ If you can’t move beyond the idea of the eye rolling and shunning you anticipate, ask your family this simple question: How open-minded do you think we are as a family? Then listen. Ask if you can share something that’s been on your mind. Then listen. What is the worst that could happen? In my experience, family may resist at first, and different family members will respond differently. The goal isn’t to change people’s belief systems as much as to build a tolerance for learning and discussing multiple narratives. A great place to start is to share what YOU are learning and thinking about and being open to listening to other family members’ views. Learning to pursue multiple perspectives begins at home.

As for me, this Thanksgiving I’ll be thanking my family for coming along with me on my waking up journey. Any one of us could have been the first to open our minds and hearts to the damage done to us by white segregation, comfort, and avoidance of truth telling. I can only hope I would have loved them along the rocky path as steadfastly as they have loved me.

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7 thoughts on “A Thanksgiving Truth Telling Challenge

  1. Nancy Younossi says:

    Debby,

    I am very impressed with your Thanksgiving Challenge and would love to meet you as we are neighbors. My partner is Moonanum James who is the son of the man who started Day of Mourning in 1970. UAINE will be on Cole's Hill next Thursday to commemmorate the 45th National Day of Mourning!

    Nancy

  2. Sherry Gordon says:

    Dear Debby,

    Hi, there, Debby!   Wow,my precious white sisterfriend, Debby! Wow and wow! And wow and wow!  I thank-you, thank-you, thank-you so, so very profusely for this spectacular and so incredibly brave and so lovingly, caringly, sensitively honest and heartfelt blog post article of yours!  Your courage and your honesty, and your brave and honest words with such sincere integrity just went straight to my heart as the black woman who I am who also had a paternal great-grandfather who was Native American from the Blackfeet tribe. Your words mean so, so much to me and I appreciate you and your words so, so very much-and your very acknowledgement of the lies of the so called history we have all been force fed and spoon fed in this vast lie of miseducation.  You have just went straight to my heart, my wonderful white friend and sister, because you are acknowledging my history, my pain, as I am a black woman who also has some Native American ancestry and heritage as well. I, too, will celebrate Thanksgiving and recreate this holiday as a day of gratitude for all of our Good God's bountiful blessings which God has bestowed upon me. I count you, sister, as one of my many blessings-your sisterhood with me, your friendship, and your very efficiently productive, proactive, and progressive work you do in your allyship and activism in solidarityas the incredibly and amazingly wonderful white woman who you are, my sisterfriend Debby!  Our racial justice work together, sister, along with the wonderful blessing and gift of you, Debby, are some of the magnificent blessings I embrace and praise our Good God for on our Thanksgiving, and for always!  Debby, your ideas and suggestions for how people can talk to their families, in particular among white persons and their families, are so right on and very relevant and so full of wisdom.  These are absolutely great ideas and suggestions, my friendsister, Debby!

    Debby, I pray and wish for you and your precious and beloved, dearest and darling family a Very Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving with so, so many overflowing bountiful blessings! May all of you have so much fun and celebrate as you and your family recreate this blessed holiday as a day of bountiful blessings, sister!

    Peace & Love & Very Warmly & Sincerely For Always,

    Your lesbian black sisterfriend in solidarity, Sherry Gordon

  3. Mark Schafer says:

    Thanks for letting me know about the Indian Country Today Media Network, Debbie. I look forward to reading more.

  4. John Skeen says:

    Hi Debby and Everyone, My discussion group linked me to this page, and I emailed the following in response. I'm only now realizing I forgot to respond here, too. Here it is:

    At the risk of everyone hating me, I’m not on board with this Thanksgiving Challenge, so called. First of all, Thanksgiving as a formal holiday has become a family tradition in its own right, irrespective of Native American interests. Some family gatherings at this holiday make no reference whatever to Indians or pilgrims, and some families are enormously nourished by these traditions. I would not offend my friends and family in an effort to “correct” them on the history of white atrocities still at work in our society, by turning to poison a deeply valued celebration on its own terms. There are many days left in the year, and many other more compassionate ways to make the point. I would not inflict on those I love my own insensitivity toward their values, as a reaction to the insensitivity I wish to correct in them.

     

    Secondly, in some families, these celebrations which have gathered us together from childhood, are the only things holding us together, as sad as that sounds. I would strongly caution us about eroding the fragile love we do share, by throwing onto the meal our own self-righteous certainty that we have the truth for everyone else, and so turning our meal and our gathering toxic.

     

    Finally, I would caution us to make sure we do our own homework first, before imposing on others our newly acquired wisdom, which may be too unseasoned to be convincing. Moral power comes from personal integrity, and that is something hard won, so to say, in the closet of our prayer life, whatever form that takes. One test of this is whether we can say something with an open heart, without defense, even in the expectation of   disapproval and criticism, with compassion for their understandable anger when we throw in their face the sins of the past. We have to deeply acknowledge in ourselves, our own sins, and discern in what ways we ourselves, in our current attitudes, help perpetuate through our own sense of entitlement, the very things we wish to change in other people and in our society. Gandhi understood this profoundly; moral integrity was his only weapon; he transformed himself thoroughly and deeply first; before he challenged anyone else to change, he challenged himself. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches peace, but his method and his practice is to BE peace. Talking is easy, and sometimes necessary; mostly though, the real work is in transforming ourselves into becoming the change we wish to see in the world. No one said it was easy, or quick. In the meantime, I hope we can be respectful and compassionate while we each walk our own personal walk, giving others, even in our disagreements, the space to do the same. John.Skeen@gmail.com

    1. Debby Irving says:

      John, thank you for trusting my website as a place to offer an alternate perspective. I appreciate your tone of engaged respect. A couple thoughts in response to your response. We do all need to guage our own families and situations. For instance, were someone in my family in mid-divorce or in the throes of chemotherapy, I would not choose that Thanksgiving as the time for such a push. I trust that people know their circumstances in that regard. That said, two suggestions you make catch my attention. The first is that broaching our common history necessarily predicts a terrible outcome. In my expereince, exploring these issues as a family has been far from alienating, it has brought us closer together as we’ve explored together, bit by bit, new perspectives. Secondly, I spend so much time with white people waiting to reach some point of transformed perfection until they speak that the silence gets maintained and haunts them. At this point I encourage people not to wait but to start raising questions and get the conversation going. Speaking from the “I” perspective — Sharing what’s on our mind  and what we are learning is a great place to start. Letting go of an outcome and taking the conversation one comment and quesiton at time is, in my opinion, transformative. Again, my goal is never to wake everyone up in one huge info blast, but more to build a tolerance for a different conversational climate that allows us all to grow, and grow together.

      1. John Skeen says:

        Thanks Debby. Points well taken and well received.

  5. veganelder says:

    As you expand your awareness of how language and culture masks reality and hides the victims of oppression, you might take a moment to re-look at the 2nd photo down in your blog post. The Norman Rockwell painting has as it's centerpoint another victim of human oppression and dominance. That turkey was once a living being who had feelings, including joy and fear, curiosity and pain. Our cultural narratives placed her/his being into the realm of "thing" and hence liable to having their life taken simply to satisfy a human whim. Oppression is oppression regardless of whether the victim was a human animal or an animal that didn't happen to be human. The only way to live a life avoiding (insomuch as possible) oppression and harm to other living beings is to live vegan…as far as I know. Hopefully you can re-consider the limits on your circles of compassion and oppression avoidance.

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