More than Just “Thankful”: Thanksgiving, Responsibility, and Privilege-Remembering
America is a country of contradictions and mythologies. Thanksgiving, a most peculiarly American holiday, is no different. Only in the land where freedom for all is exalted but not practiced do we celebrate a grossly revisionist form of a holiday that attempts to whitewash the systemic destruction of indigenous American-Indian cultures. The flare of holidays is found in their origins, and Thanksgiving unearths a particularly deleterious era in America’s inception. As we break our bread and carve our turkeys, we should remember the responsibility we owe to one another’s histories—our ever-present woes, our triumphs, and our on going struggles. In a country of profound disparity, it takes strength to take a moment to be thankful for the privileges in our lives that have been afforded to us. Yet, in a strange rendition of duality, we cannot be thankful for our privileges without remembering our oppressions. Thanksgiving is more than just food and family; it is also about remembrance and responsibility. I posit that Thanksgiving should be about more than just being “thankful,” for that launches us into a passive state of existence where we recline into our comforts. Let’s do more; let’s take active responsibility for ourselves, others, and the people in this world.
In Fences, the Pulitzer-prize winning play by the Black playwright August Wilson, the main protagonist Troy, tells his son “I owe a responsibility to you.” These words resonate with me in the present moment. We owe a responsibility to individuals in places like Syria and Gaza, where every moment is punctuated with the threat of death. We owe a responsibility to the 13 transgendered individuals murdered this year. We owe a responsibility to the homeless and runaway youth, who cannot revel in the solace of family. And to be frank, these are dramatizations of norms. There are many all around of us, family, friends, and coworkers, who are suffering in intricate and untold ways.
So yes, let us be thankful, let us remember our privileges. It takes courage and humility to do so. But the ability to be thankful comes hand in hand with the responsibility to reach out to those around us. To truly appreciate something is not to take pleasure in it ourselves, but to ensure that those around us have the opportunity to share in it. This, I think, is what it means to be thankful.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving.