All is Not Gravy – Honoring Genocide and Calling it ‘Thanksgiving’

This year’s Thanksgiving post comes from Olga González.

Olga GonzalezOlga González is an Indigenous Otomi/Yaqui woman. She holds a BA degree in Psychology/Chicano Studies and a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management. She is a community educator and activist who strives to create a world free from oppression. In 1998, she was the recipient of the Mayor’s Award for “Outstanding Denver Citizen Committed to Fighting Against Hate.” She is a wife and mother of three beautiful warrior girls. She is also a certified personal trainer and Zumba instructor and enjoys helping people to become healthier.

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Every year on ”Thanksgiving,” I am troubled by the mass ignorance and denial of what the day actually represents.  Some people rejoice in the holiday by repeating the myth that was taught in school-the myth about a day when Pilgrims and Indians shared a meal together and gave thanks.  Nothing can be further from the truth!

“‘Thanksgiving’ did not begin as a great loving relationship between the  pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people.  In fact, in October of 1621 when the ‘pilgrim’ survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial ‘Thanksgiving’ meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited!  There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie.  A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of ‘pilgrims’ led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian leader, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out!

Officially, the holiday we know as ‘Thanksgiving’ actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut.  They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to ‘give thanks’ for their great ‘victory.'”
Mistakes, Lies and Misconceptions about American Indian People – The Thanksgiving Myth

Most people I have spoken to stated that they either did not know the origin of the holiday or that they knew its origin, but “simply” choose to see it as a day to share a meal with their families.

I don’t understand how the history of the holiday can be ignored or how people can mentally and morally separate themselves from it.

One so-called activist even stated that she wasn’t thinking about the Indians, just about the turkey and that people needed to relax!  How can one relax when they are clearly participating in a holiday that ignores the atrocities committed against Native people!

Must be nice to be able to simply cover up the legacy of genocide in gravy!  We would not have a day of thanksgiving initiated by Nazis to celebrate the holocaust or a day in which slave owners thanked God  for their slaves.  Why, then, is it ok to ignore what happened to Native people and the very real ways in which we continue to be silenced, oppressed, and victimized in our own home?

“Thanksgiving” is a myth that ignores genocide, European colonization, and its aftermath.

It is hurtful and insulting to gloss over the historical atrocities committed against Native people and to then declare a national holiday for us all to give thanks! I would like for us to think about it and be very aware that the holiday disrespects and dishonors Native people.

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White People: Take a White Friend to “12 Years a Slave”

White people,

This weekend I saw 12 Years a Slave.  I am still sorting through my feelings and my reactions to the film, but one thing is plain as day to me after seeing this film: more White people need to see it.

12 Years a Slave

Though this film is not without its criticisms (as brilliantly put by bell hooks in this discussion with Melissa Harris-Perry where she criticizes the portrayal of Black women in the film), it is a rarity.  Not often in Hollywood are films made with a Black leading cast that are written by a Black person, based on the true story of a Black person, and directed by a Black person, particularly if they tell the truths of White Supremacy.

And in the rare circumstances that such films are made, White folks avoid them like the plague (this ain’t no Django fantasy).

So this Thanksgiving, I want to give White folks a challenge.  If you haven’t yet seen the film, consider going on Wednesday night.  

Then make an effort to bring the film up with your family and friends on Thursday, discussing how it made you feel and what its implications are for our modern constructions of race and Whiteness.  And then from there, consider what action you can take to work for racial justice.

In the words of my friend Julie Landsman (you should probably just read her whole piece),

I find that some white people who see or read accounts of slavery or Jim Crow retreat into guilt without naming it as such. They rest there, immoveable, privileged by their skin color yet unwilling to accept the past which still determines much of the present policies and day to day indignities in our country. Some say they will not see the movie because it would be so hard to watch. I get that. I also get the desire to turn away, contribute to a bake sale for a child’s school and call it even. Yet this is not enough.

Steven McQueen the director of 12 Years a Slave, said he wanted to make it possible for the viewer to get inside the experience of slavery. He and Alfre Woodard each said at different times during a press conference in Toronto after the first showing of the film, that the movie is really about human dignity and about love. It is also about complexity and nuance, more so than any other such film I have seen on the subject. It is about those who are left behind. It is also about a country that still persists in leaving a whole people behind. There is little joy or ease in the 2 ½ hours spent watching McQueen’s work. Many movies have traumatic tales to tell but this one, the genocide that was a part of our history, and that influences how white supremacy perpetuates the system that still oppresses many African Americans in a unique way, is shown in such a manner that it enables us to get at least a cinematic idea of how all pervasive the slaughter of human beings was here.

So go see the film.

But when you see the film, I have a second challenge for you.  As much as you are able, do not close your eyes.  Do not shy away from the all-too-real depictions of brutality.

Because the present we know is not divorced from the foundation upon which it was built, a foundation of brutality toward Black bodies (and all bodies of Color).  When George Zimmerman walks free and it takes 2 weeks and tremendous public pressure for police outside of Detroit to charge a White man in the cold blooded-murder of Renisha McBride, this “justice” stands upon a system that was fundamentally built on the enslavement and brutality of Black bodies.

To force ourselves to watch when we want to close our eyes or put our hands over our faces is to breathe in, in whatever way the fiction of film may allow us, the air that surrounds us every day but we often choose not to recognize is there: the air of White Supremacy in these United States.

In the end, there is no amount of film watching and discussion that will allow us to truly know the brutality that comes from White Supremacy, but the simple act of, as a mentor and professor often says, “wading through the shit,” facing the brutality, at least might allow us to connect emotionally and spiritually with the price we pay for the privileges of Whiteness.

So let’s start there.

In Peace,

Jamie

P.S. If you can’t afford to pay $12.50 to see the film, consider watching what bell hooks called the only film on slavery that she’s truly liked, Slavery By Another Name.  You can stream it for free online.  Then talk about it with your family and friends.

P.P.S. For those folks who are indignant that this is so specifically addressed to White-identified people, listen to Julie Landsman one more time:

It is not up to African Americans to follow through. It is not even suggested here that they go see this movie. Each of us can decide that for ourselves. I do believe, however, that it is up to whites to understand our history, our complicity—whether it was my uncle’s bank in Connecticut that profited from the slave trade, or the ivy league universities that also took advantage of the bondage of millions. I believe it is up to whites to make time for 12 Years A Slave, because until we experience this from the inside, as McQueen hopes we do, we will not have the will to redress it. We will not understand the intimate way it feels to experience loss, and the historical memory of such a loss on a grand scale. We will continue to leave whole people’s behind.

Please Be That Guy! 7 Men Who Are Transforming Masculinity

Lately I’ve been seeing a pattern.  More and more men are standing up to misogyny, to sexual violence, to street harassment, to victim blaming, to rape apologia, to sexism.

Despite the noise created by the idiocy in the Men’s Rights Movement, a tide is shifting.

On every college campus and in every high school where I work, I meet young men who are passionate about creating a different masculinity.

In short, there are men who are acting like this:

So I wanted to take just a minute here at Change From Within to highlight some of those amazing men who are leading this transformation of masculinity, men who I admire tremendously and who inspire me to be a better man on the daily.

Darnell Moore

Darnell MooreAs I sit here trying to write about Darnell, I find myself erasing and rewriting my introductory sentence over and over.  It’s impossible to describe this man.

I’ve long been a fan of his writing and speaking, and I had the opportunity to meet with him recently, and I cannot describe the humble power this man possesses in words.  His kindness and generosity are only surpassed by his brilliance.

As a public intellectual on issues of race, sexuality, and gender, Darnell is leading men to imagine their positionality in the world differently, moving toward an ethic of love and brotherhood rather than dominance and control, and his work with youth is truly groundbreaking.

Check out his recent Ted Talk:

 

Fivel Rothberg

Fivel RothbergFivel is a father, filmmaker, and activist who uses his own powerful stories to help men understand the work we must do to transform ourselves as part of transforming masculinity.

His film House Devil, Street Angel is an autobiographical documentary that tells Fivel’s story of his struggle to raise his son to know a different, nonviolent, positive masculinity.

On a personal level, Fivel is a caring soul, a man who is passionate about making this world a better place and who makes you feel like a family member in that work from the moment he meets you.

Fivel is currently working on a documentary about consent and positive, healthy sexuality, so keep an eye out for that.

In the mean time, check out the first of Fivel’s film that I ever saw:

 

Kai M. Green

Kai M GreenKai is a filmmaker, poet, and Ph.D. candidate who strives to build a more inclusive understanding of gender and masculinity through his art and scholarship.

Though I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Kai in person, I am proud to boast that I get to write alongside Kai at Everyday Feminism where his writing inspires me to think differently about race, gender, and healing.

Check out the trailer for his documentary “It Gets Messy in Here” here, and watch his interview with Me and My Bois below.

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On Listening, Lily Allen, and Satire

I’ve been reading a lot about Lily Allen in the last few days, and I’m troubled to say the least.

In case you’re unaware, Lily Allen recently released a “feminist anthem” called “Hard Out Here.”  A friend posted it on Facebook with the question, “Is this clever feminist satire or just a recreation of the same racist commodification of the bodies of Women of Color?”  A rousing debate ensued.

Hard Out Here

Screenshot from Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here”

In this debate, as well as in a few others I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook in the last 24 hours, there was one thing that was pretty obvious: White people were FAR more likely to defend Lily Allen than people of Color, and there wasn’t a whole lot of listening going on from those of identity privilege.

And it’s not just my random White Facebook friends that are having trouble hearing the critiques.  Lily Allen herself responded to the criticism defensively, claiming it’s just a “lighthearted satirical video” that “has nothing to do with race, at all.”

When I hear her respond, though, I just want to scream, “Why do you get to decide if it’s not about race?!?”

And therein lies my point.  As people of privilege, it is our responsibility to listen and reflect when we are called out for the ways that our privilege impacts oppressed and marginalized people, even if we are oppressed and marginalized in other aspects of our identity.

In short, if we are striving to be “allies” or to fight for social justice, we need to step back and do a better job of listening.  In this case, White people – even White women – need to step back and listen to the myriad of voices of Color who are saying that if this video is “feminist,” then they want nothing to do with “feminism.”

So here are a few powerful voices.  There are all sorts of others out there, but these are a few criticisms/critiques that helped me to grow.  Hopefully they can do the same for you.

Easy Out There For A (White) Bitch: A Few Words On Lily Allen and the Continued Use of Black Women’s Bodies As Props

By Mia Mckenzie of Black Girl Dangerous

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So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know

As happens every time that I read something from Black Girl Dangerous, I recently found myself snapping, nodding, and yelling out “YES!” while reading a piece from Mia McKenzie.

Her article “No More ‘Allies’” made me profoundly uncomfortable – which is a good thing.

I was uncomfortable because it was a call to reflection about my own “ally”identifications and my own work.

To start, read her piece. Seriously. It is awesome.

Beyond that, though, it’s time for those of us who fashion ourselves “allies” or as “currently operating in solidarity with” to have a conversation.

More and more, I am seeing precisely what McKenzie is describing – people of identity privilege who are identifying as “allies” almost as if it is a core part of their identity.

What’s worse, I keep seeing people respond to criticism about their oppressive language or problematic humor with, “But I’m an ally!”

For instance, I recently saw an acquaintance (who notably identifies as Straight)post a pretty problematic joke about Gay men on Twitter.

Aside from expressing my discontent in a tweet, I reached out to her in a private message to explain why I took issue with her joke.

Her response, though, was to say, “Jamie, you know that I’m an LGBT ally! I speak out for Gay rights all the time! This was clearly just a joke.”

And therein lies the problem.

The identification of “ally” was so prominent in this person’s mind that she couldn’t even hear criticism of how her actions were out of alignment with her professed desire to be an “ally!”

So “allies,” let’s talk.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Before I say anything else, though, I should note something important about this article.

None of what I am writing here are my ideas.

They are drawn from Mia McKenzie’s piece, from conversations I’ve had with people of many different marginalized identities, from theorists, novelists, bloggers – but none of them are inherently mine.

They are the ideas of the People of Color, Queer-identified people, women, differently-abled people, poor folks, Jewish people, Muslim people, Atheists, undocumented citizens, and others.

And noting this is important.

Because part of being an ally means giving credit where credit is due and never taking credit for the anti-oppressive thinking, writing, theorizing, and action of the marginalized and oppressed.

Which I guess leads me to my point.

10 Things Every ‘Ally’ Needs to Remember

There are lots of ways to be a great “ally” – and innumerable ways to be a terrible one.

But it’s not rocket science.

There are simple things you can keep in mind and do in order to be a better person “currently operating in solidarity with” the marginalized or oppressed.

And while this list is not comprehensive, it’s definitely somewhere to start.

1. Being an Ally is About Listening

As McKenzie puts it, “Shut up and listen.”

As someone striving to be an ally, the most important thing we can do is listen to as many voices of those we’re allying ourselves with as possible. 

Now, does this mean that we should assume that just because, say, one Person of Color said it that it’s the absolutely truth that we should parrot? Absolutely not.

If that were the case, then Don Lemon would clearly speak for all Black people.

But listening to a diversity of marginalized voices can help you understand the core of any given issue.

And it also can help you understand why the opinion of your one Lesbian friend is not necessarily the best defense of your use of heterosexist language.

2.  Stop Thinking of ‘Ally’ as a Noun

Being an ally isn’t a status.

The moment that we decide “I’m an ally,” we’re in trouble.

As Mia McKenzie puts it:

“’Currently operating in solidarity with’ is undeniably an action. It describes what a person is doing in the moment. It does not give credit for past acts of solidarity without regard for current behavior. It does not assume future acts of solidarity. It speaks only to the actions of the present.”

3.  ‘Ally’ is Not a Self-Proclaimed Identity

Really, being an ally is not an identity at all, but it’s vitally important that we understand that we cannot simply decide we are allies.

Being in solidarity is something we can strive for, but in the end, it is the choice of those we are attempting to ally ourselves to as to whether they trust us enough to call us an ally.

Additionally, just because one person considers me an ally, that does not mean that every person of that marginalized identity considers me an ally or should!

Trust is something earned through concerted action, not given simply because of our actions in a particular arena or context.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.