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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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.

Guest Post – Standing Up to Racial and Religious Profiling

Kadra AbdiKadra Abdi is originally from Somalia and Kenya, and grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She obtained her Master of Public Policy degree with an emphasis on Gender and Global Policy and a minor in Human Rights from the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Luther College in Anthropology, and Women and Gender Studies. She has a strong background and interest in international development, social entrepreneurship, and community-based organizations. She has worked with diverse communities in Kenya and Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota with a focus on program development and the creation of healthy relations across cultures. Follow Kadra on Twitter at @JESUISKADRA ———

“We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants.  That’s who we are — in our bones.  The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe, that’s always been one of our greatest strengths.  It keeps our workforce young.  It keeps our country on the cutting edge.  And it’s helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.”

– President Barack Obama

 In June 2013, I traveled to Stockholm, Sweden as a grantee of the U.S. Government, specifically of the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm. The purpose of this travel was to present a workshop at the 2013 Nordic Somali Youth Summit, “a project that continues to strengthen and connect engaged youths across the Nordic borders and promote cross-national cooperation on education, employment, social entrepreneurship and political participation.”

 During the summit, I led a workshop titled, “Modern Somali-American.” I discussed the dichotomy of traditional and modern social norms and how they are reconciled day-to-day in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I also shared stories about efforts to engage community members as active participants in creating solutions to community concerns.

 I was proud to be an American in Stockholm. I was proud to emphasize my American-ness more any other part of my identity.

 I shared stories from my four, formative years at Luther College. It was at Luther where I learned to be comfortable in my skin and with my identity, which was not exactly mainstream in a Norwegian-American Lutheran college.

 I identify as a Muslim, Somali, American, and a feminist. At Luther, I learned that the intersection of those identities is not only possible, it is a strength.

 Over the years, I became much more self-aware. I became aware of my ability to comfortably navigate and shift between cultures and identities. I learned to be at peace with being a perpetual insider and outsider.

 My Somali counterparts in Sweden could relate to my stories. We connected on our shared narrative. I left the Summit feeling inspired. I made friends, and potential collaborators. I made connections that would last me a lifetime.

 Sadly, upon returning to my own borders, the same values I was espousing to foreigners abroad about America’s tolerance of immigrants were not extended to me.

 I traveled back to Minneapolis on Sunday, June 9th. Upon returning, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport conducted an unnecessary, unjustified, illegal, and degrading search.

 I understand that for some people, searches at airport checkpoints might seem routine, but let me explain to you why this was not.

 It was not a random security check upon my arrival into the United States. After the initial questions, the officer referred me for additional screening without explaining the process. I was the only passenger chosen for the additional screening, and the screening took place in the open area, not in a private room.

 The Officer said my name and country of origin were “red flags” and that people with my name do “bad things.” He said “there is always an issue when people are entering the United States.” Simply put, I was the target of racial, ethnic, and religious profiling.

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Cut Through the Defensiveness: 6 Suggestions for Conversations About Privilege

I once published a piece about White privilege, and my White friend’s dad lost it.  He read it and immediately called his son at work and asked him, “What are you doing right now?”

My friend replied, “Working, why?”  My friend worked as a carpet cleaner, backbreaking labor for sure.

“Well, Jamie says you’re privileged.  Do you feel privileged right now as you bust your ass to feed your family?”

“Are you kidding me?!?  Screw him! I’ve never had anything handed to me!”

And so the story goes.  How many times have you tried to discuss privilege with someone who is well-meaning but who has no sense of their own privilege and gotten a similar result?

What is “identity privilege?”
Any unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity. Examples of aspects of identity that can afford privilege: Race, Religion, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Class/Wealth, Ability, or Citizenship Status

After a while, my friend brought up the conversation he had with his dad, and we discussed it.  It didn’t go well.  He immediately got defensive, so did I, and the conversation ended in anger.  As I reflected upon our talk, I took stock of some of the tools I have been given over the years to make this conversation more accessible and less hostile.  I decided to try again, so I reached out to my friend.  The second conversation was tense at times, as any conversation about privilege can be, but this time it went really well, and I think it did because I worked hard to change the tone of the conversation.  Afterward, I couldn’t help but think, “I need to share these tools!!!”

Thus, whether you’re trying to talk Male privilege with your dad, White privilege with someone on the bus, or right-handed privilege with your golfing buddy, here are a few things to consider before jumping into the conversation:

1.  Start by appealing to the ways in which they don’t have privilege.  One of the fastest ways to disarm a person’s defensiveness about their own privilege is to take some time to listen to the ways in which they legitimately do not have privilege and validate those frustrations.

I once attended a workshop with Peggy McIntosh, the original author of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”  The goal of the workshop was to give people tools for leading workshops of their own on privilege and oppression that get past the defensiveness.  One of her suggestions was to have people divide a paper in half.  Have every person start on the left side of the paper and write down all of the ways in which they do not have identity privilege.  They can include everything from being left handed and having to drag your hand through the ink to being a woman and having to deal with the gender wage gap.  Then folks would write on the opposite side all of the ways in which their identity does afford them privilege that they did not earn.

From there, folks pair up and do a listening exercise where they listen intently to the other person talk about both sides of their list.  Doing so allows people to air their frustrations at being denied privilege while also acknowledging that they do, indeed, have privilege.  From that place, it is a lot easier to help folks understand the power of privilege in creating a system of oppression and how eliminating that system is liberatory and transformative for everyone.

Now, to do this, you don’t need to turn it into a workshop.  Just try asking the other person to talk about the ways in which they don’t have identity privilege, and validate those hurts and frustrations.  Simply listening can go a long way!  Plus, it’s a starting point for helping them build empathy for those who do not have their same privileges.

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Racism: Fuel for the Immigration Debate Fire

This morning, I opened my inbox to the usual stuff: a slew of work-related emails, my daily deal emails (which I never even read any more . . . I just delete), and an email from Amnesty International asking for donations.  Mixed in there somewhere was a rather interesting forward titled, “You Want Liberal . . . Check the Last Photos . . .”  Here’s the text and photos from the email:

Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people like Mr. Lujan why today’s American is not willing to accept this new kind of immigrant any longer.

Back in 1900 when there was a rush from all areas of Europe to come to the United States, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in New York and be documented. Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground. They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times.They made learning English a primary rule in their new American households and some even changed their names to blend in with their new home.

They had waved goodbye to their birth place to give their children a new life and did everything in their power to help their children assimilate into one culture. Nothing was handed to them. No free lunches, no welfare, no labor laws to protect them. All they had were the skills and craftsmanship they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity.

Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out. My father fought along side men whose parents had come straight over from Germany, Italy, France and Japan. None of these 1st generation Americans ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from. They were Americans fighting Hitler, Mussolini and the Emperor of Japan. They were defending the United States of America as one people.

When we liberated France, no one in those villages were looking for the French American, the German American or the Irish American. The people of France saw only Americans. And we carried one flag that represented one country. Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country’s flag and waving it to represent who they were. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here. These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be an American. They stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl.

And here we are with a new kind of immigrant who wants the same rights and privileges. Only they want to achieve it by playing with a different set of rules, one that includes the entitlement card and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country.

I’m sorry, that’s not what being an American is all about. I believe that the immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900’s deserve better than that for all the toil, hard work and sacrifice in raising future generations to create a land that has become a beacon for those legally searching for a better life. I think they would be appalled that they are being used as an example by those waving foreign country flags.

I wouldn’t start …. dismantling the United States just yet.

FOR THE WRONG THINGS TO PREVAIL, THE RIGHTFUL MAJORITY NEEDS TO REMAIN COMPLACENT AND QUIET. LET THIS NEVER HAPPEN!

 As I read the forward, my blood started to boil.  My usual response to annoying forwards is simple: Delete.  However, in this case, I couldn’t look past the blatant racism I saw in the above piece, so I decided on a different tact: Reply All.
Here’s my response: