Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks A Lot

With today being Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, we're supposed to take some time to remember what we're thankful for. As I came to understand American history better, I became more and more conflicted about Thanksgiving. Partly because, in my opinion, our supposed thankfulness has become a mixture of banal platitudes and pseudo-religious groveling. But partly because we don't really think about what it all means, in the big picture.

The United States exists because the European settlers and their descendants who ranged across the continent saw vast tracks of open land. The native peoples weren't really even regarded as people - you could make the case that they were mainly seen as uppity wildlife. And the first Thanksgiving came about mainly because some of those same native peoples had more compassion than foresight. The "endless opportunities" that drew, and still draw, people to the United States (and, for that matter, to other destinations in the Americas) looking for a new and better life were paid for with an awful lot of blood and death. The native peoples who once populated the whole of the United States were on the wrong end of an amazingly raw deal, and most of what made the country arguably the foremost power in all of history mainly passed them by. And it seems that we've swept all of that under the rug, in favor of a feel-good holiday that's little more than a gateway to the world's largest shopping spree.

While it's hard to imagine that one could write a thanks to all of the people (natives and otherwise) who paid very high prices for the position that we're in now without appearing to simply channel the bitterness of history's losers, that shouldn't stop us from acknowledging how the flow of history brought us to this point. That doesn't mean needing to see ourselves as complicit in what we now (sometimes, anyway) regard as the crimes of others. Just that we should spare some thought for those that wound up footing the bill for opportunities that they themselves were denied.

No comments: