Not The Thanksgiving You Were Looking For

A couple nights ago I lay in bed not quite falling asleep while thinking about the just-announced grand jury decision in the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, MO and I decided that I needed to write a Thanksgiving post with all the things that you can’t really say you are thankful for because they are horrible. But even as I made my list, I worried that some people would just read the horrible parts and not process the reasons or the message underneath. (I’m thankful that I’m white. It makes my life so much easier than that of my two Latino offspring — one of whom experienced police harassment and a $300 citation a couple of years ago while just sitting in his car in a completely legal parking space. I was able to get the ticket thrown out for him in court, but we all know that cop is still harassing other brown folks and getting paid for it.) And then I saw a short video on YouTube, and I knew that someone had already written the message I intended to express about this holiday.

I am a grateful person. Being thankful is part of my daily practice, and something that I believe makes the world a better place. Giving thanks brings peace as we recognize what we have and settle into a sense of security and abundance instead of focusing on the things that we don’t have and the fears that come with that. And maybe being sideways thankful — saying “thank you” for things that are really a part of the system of injustice we live in — isn’t that helpful for creating peace, but right now I feel like the world needs more accountability on the part of the privileged.

We who have privilege must recognize it if we are to enable a society that values and promotes human rights for everyone. If we don’t recognize the extra bonuses we get just for being a certain color or a certain gender or having a certain kind of education, then we can’t really address that inequality. If we don’t stop for a moment to say thanks for the horrible bonuses that we got through no fault of our own, I’m not sure that we can find the courage to let go of those privileges and share the playing field equally with everyone else.

I am horrified that land was taken away from people so that my ancestors could start their farms and businesses, but I’m grateful that I live on that land today. These two things set up a cognitive dissonance that we nearly always shy away from.

I’m horrified that some people had to work for a fraction of the wage that my great-grandfather did on major construction jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area back in the 20’s and 30’s just because he could “pass” for white even if his bloodline wasn’t so “pure”, but I’m grateful that he had a job and did so well for his family. In injustice there is a prize for someone.

It doesn’t have to be like that, though. We talk about a myth of Thanksgiving in which the Natives and the European new comers sat and ate together as friends. It didn’t go quite that way, but the myth at least says something about our better nature. We want to have been better than we were. We want to believe that we are better than we are. And I, for one, want to believe that we can be better.

So today I’ll sit with friends, eat turkey and pumpkin pie, share some things I’m thankful for, and most importantly, I’ll commit myself to making the world a place where more people have more to be thankful for next year (and the year after that, and the year after that) than they do today.

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