WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2022
...as one tale replaces another? We'll bite! What are schoolkids told today—or perhaps, permitted to learn on their own—about the so-called First Thanksgiving?
Let's take it one step further! What do school kids know today about the state of "the Americas" in 1621? About the state of the Americas in 1491, one year before the event which has long been taken as the first contact between Europe and this "new world?"
What do kids know about the civilizations of the Americas as of 1491? About the state of play in what is now called New England at the time of that first Thanksgiving Day feast?
About the events which came after that? What are today's children told? What do they learn on their own?
You're asking interesting questions there; you can color us curious blue! We'd love to know what today's textbooks say, and what kids learn on their own, but we're unlikely see such reports.
Instead, we'll continue to see the swapping of standard stories.
"For centuries," a standard story was told to children and adults alike about that first Thanksgiving—a very limited story. Today, it's been replaced by what may perhaps be seen as a new and substantially different standard / limited tale:
CHERY (11/19/22): For centuries, Thanksgiving has been billed as an opportunity for friends and family to gather, with peace and gratitude in their hearts. But for Native Americans, celebrating the autumnal holiday isn’t as simple.
The short-and-sweet story told in schools depicting the first Thanksgiving as a harmonious harvest celebration between Native people and Pilgrims “was a very romanticized, Whitewashed education about Indigenous peoples,” said Jordan Daniel, who’s a member of the Lower Brule Sioux tribe.
In reality, 1621 was not the first celebration of Thanksgiving between the English and the Wampanoag people, said David Silverman, a George Washington University professor who specializes in Native American history. The Wampanoags tried to ally with the English for trade and to maintain political independence from another Native group after an epidemic dwindled their numbers.
“Tensions built for years as the English population grew and began dispossessing, subjugating and evangelizing Native people,” Silverman said. Finally, war broke out around 1675, and after the English won, they enslaved about 2,000 American Indian prisoners of war, he added.
In 1970, the United American Indians of New England began commemorating Thanksgiving Day as a National Day of Mourning to honor their ancestors who experienced cultural genocide at the hands of European colonialists.
That newer version of the story is now published each year. Arguably, it might be perceived as a bit of a "bluewashed" story, especially when it continues in ways such as this:
CHERY (continuing directly): Native Americans as a whole say they’re still fighting for what’s rightfully theirs. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe still doesn’t have control over its entire ancestral land. The Supreme Court has been weighing the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which Congress passed in 1978 to remedy the practice of removing Native children from their homes and sending them to non-Native boarding schools and families.
The people of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe still don’t have control over the tribe's entire ancestral land? In reality, the 2,800 people of that tribe aren't ever going to "have control" over some such undefined expanse of ancestral land.
As everyone knows, that isn't going to happen! History has moved on in a brutal but definitive way, as history has frequently done. It's hard to know whose interests are served by seeming to pretend different.
What are children told today about that First Thanksgiving? What are children told today about what happened next?
We'd love to know such things! We'd also like to know what adults are told about the problems of needs of Native American peoples today. But that's a topic which is almost never discussed within our blue tribe press.
In fact, no one cares a whole lot about that—about the interests and the needs of the Native American kids who are being born today. Instead, we retell the story, once a year, about this "national day of mourning"—a day of mourning which has now been observed, at least by some people, for over fifty years.
"These are the days of miracle and wonder," Paul Simon once declared. These are also days of great suffering around the world—and of advice columns prominently placed in the Washington Post, such as these recent insulting groaners:
Miss Manners: I can’t deal with my colleagues pooping next to me
Miss Manners: The proper etiquette for disposing bathroom trash
Miss Manners: Guest pointed out a burned-out bulb in the middle of dinner
Miss Manners: I used my friend’s baby changing station. Is that weird?
The Washington Post should be embarrassed to publish such manifest drivel. That said, this seems to be a major way to attract our blue tribe's inquiring eyeballs, with the focus on bodily waste seeming to be on the rise:
Help! My Dad’s Visiting Friend Used Our Bathtub as a Toilet.
Pathetically, "Slate Staff" recently republished that monumental, world-class groaner from January 2020. Adding intellectual insult to cultural injury, we take it as obvious that the problem posed in the original letter to Slate was a fairly obvious hoax.
For our money, Margaret Renkl has been a superb addition to the New York Times' roster of opinion columnists. Today, she writes a column which appears beneath this title:
How to Give Thanks in a Screwed-Up World
For the record, the world is substantially worse than than "screwed-up." In our view, Renkl offers superb advice as she remembers her father:
RENKL (11/23/22): I think about my father every day, but I’ve been thinking about him more than usual lately. Not only because Thanksgiving is coming on, that time when the ache of my missing elders is especially acute, but because I am trying to remind myself how to see the world as my father saw it.
“Brew positivity,” the tag on my tea bag tells me, but I am thinking of nothing as simplistic as that. My father was no Panglossian determined to believe that this is the best of all possible worlds. Dad grew up during the Great Depression in what was effectively an orphanage. He knew very well that this was not the best of all possible worlds. Nevertheless, he loved his life and was grateful for every minute of it. Somehow he was able to hold the love and the beauty and the joy alongside the grief and the fear and the pain.
That was her father! For the record, we human beings can't survive if we see nothing but the pain. Rather plainly, our species is built with the ability to ignore, forget, disregard.
That said, what are we ignoring as one of our biggest newspapers gives prominent placement to those insulting advice columns? Later, Renkl thinks about an important topic—happiness—and the (many) things she'll never be able to change:
RENKL: What voters want is transparently irrelevant to many of the officials charged to represent us, as the attorney general of Kentucky made clear last week. Voters in that state defeated a proposed anti-abortion amendment to its Constitution, but the attorney general insists the vote “has no bearing” on its near-total abortion ban. Down here, Mr. Trump’s movement is Glenn Close in the bathtub with a knife.
But it’s Thanksgiving, and I’m determined not to think about that this week. I will think instead about my father and his insistence on happiness. I will let my whole heart fill up with gratitude for what is still breathtakingly beautiful about this weary, ragged world; for the many people who are fighting for our democracy; and for all the people I love.
I can’t force polluting nations to work together to hold climate change to planet-surviving levels. I can’t force Congress to work together for solutions to the economic inequities and information silos that separate us. But I can pull out my mother’s recipe box and make a Thanksgiving feast. I can remember the loved ones who once shared this table and fill their seats with people whose loved ones are distant or otherwise missing. And I can be grateful for every single fantastic moment we have together.
None of us will ever be able to change the "economic inequities" of this nation—and those which afflict the world. That said, we blue tribals could at least make an effort to stop creating the "information silos" we help construct on a daily basis, including the silos in which brutal conduct from centuries past is never put away in service to the possibilities of the future.
The good, decent people of that (very small) Massachusetts tribe aren't ever going to get their entire ancestral land back! The Post's young writer framed the issue that way, and some editor let it go.
(Or who knows? Maybe some editor inserted that point into the young writer's report!)
That said, something else is true. Our own blue tribe is full of standard stories designed to tell ourselves that We Are The Very Good People and The Others Are Very Bad. As we tell ourselves these stories, we pretend to care about X, Y and Z, then let those matters go.
Variants of this tribal self-flattery can be seen on a daily basis. They offer glimmers and intimations of the way we manage to lose elections, even as 6-year-old children lose their mothers as they try to cross the Darien Gap on their way to this land.
We repeat the talk of cosseted professors. We're quick to call Others names, preferably by the tens of millions.
On this Thanksgiving Eve, that doesn't make us bad people. It simply makes us people people, but it also lets us know why we keep running in place.
Around the world, we humans are strongly inclined to cling to the nightmares of the past. That isn't an evil thing to do, but at what point might it possibly leave us poorly served?
Friday: Who took part in that cultural genocide? Also, what are children being told about that slightly earlier year?
Also, what sacred Nietzsche said! So much to look forward to!