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Thanksgiving's Many and Complicated Needs

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mikhail Lyubansky       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 11/26/09

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These days I find I have little tolerance for writing/discussion that completely decontextualizes Thanksgiving from historical events or contemporary meaning. As just one example, I happened to bump into an Esquire article titled "Three Big Thanksgiving Don'ts. I opened it, expecting to learn about a few ways to celebrate with sensitivity to the fact that groups of American Indians in the Northeast mark this day as the National Day of Mourning, while others in the West gather for an annual Unthanksgiving. Instead, I learned that the "three big don'ts" are

  1. Don't get creative with the menu,
  2. Don't even think of not serving Turkey
  3. Don't buy frozen turkey.

The author of this piece also advises that

Whatever you serve, your guests should want to eat in enormous quantities until they're unconscious on your couch. This is the goal.

If this was a cooking magazine, I'd shrug my shoulders and move on. Cooking magazines/sites talk about cooking. But this piece ran in Esquire, a magazine that is, in its own words, "about the interests, the curiosity, the passions, of men." This is what Esquire thinks men need to know about Thanksgiving? These are the three big things they absolutely must avoid? Such gall. Such privilege!

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But progressive/liberal takes on Thanksgiving bother me too. Take, for example, this piece by Robert Jensen, a journalist and anti-racist activist that I hold in high regard (his work on privilege should be required reading). Jensen's piece does not suffer from historical context, but we seem to have not read the same books. According to Jensen, Thanksgiving is

a holiday rooted in a celebration of the European conquest of the Americas, which means the celebration of the Europeans' genocidal campaign against indigenous people.

Did you catch the use of the term "genocide"? It's not accidental. Jensen has used it repeatedly in previous articles, including this one in 2005, in which he argued that

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we should atone for the genocide that was incited -- and condoned -- by the very men we idolize as our 'heroic' founding fathers.

Now there is no question that the U.S. government and its citizens have treated this nation's indigenous people dishonestly and inhumanely. In addition to waging many wars, the U.S. government negotiated treaties in bad faith and forcefully removed children from their communities in order to assimilate them (via boarding schools) into American society. And those were the ones who were lucky enough to be alive. There is widespread agreement among historians that an estimated 80% of native inhabitants died from disease as a result of contact with Europeans. It is estimated that millions perished during this time. It's a staggering number of people and a tragic part of this nation's history, a history that most Americans have yet to even acknowledge, much less come to terms with. One does not need to read "between the lines" to realize that, if we are to heal as a nation, this will need to happen. I hope it happens soon.

But Jensen ties this tragedy to Thanksgiving in a way that, in my opinion, is undeserved. Read the rest of the article HERE.


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Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a teaching associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches Psychology of Race and Ethnicity, Theories of Psychotherapy, and a graduate-level courses on restorative justice. An autobiographical essay of Mikhail's interests in race relations and basketball is available here.

Since 2009, Mikhail has been studying and working with conflict, particularly via Restorative Circles (a restorative practice developed in Brazil by Dominic Barter and associates) and other restorative responses to conflict. Together with Elaine Shpungin, he now supports schools, organizations, and workplaces in developing restorative strategies for engaging conflict, building conflict facilitation skills and evaluating the (more...)

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