Thanksgiving in the United States is often a time to come together with family, friends and whomever else we call community.
My favorite memories of Thanksgiving are around the table sharing food, memories full of warmth, comfort and a feeling of belonging.
But as I grew up, I also learned about the real history behind Thanksgiving; a terrible history, far removed from the supposed “reenactment” of a generous meal shared between settlers and indigenous people who I was taught to participate in as a kid in my Catholic elementary school.
And now that I know that Thanksgiving, in fact, recalls the meals that celebrated massacres of indigenous people, I cannot “un-know” that history — a settler society built the United States on genocide.
For us white folks only recently opening our eyes to the genocide, racism and oppression that founded the United States, it is only reasonable to ask, now what do I do?
One important response is to start focusing on accountability.
For the past five years I have facilitated a series of formation sessions dealing with issues of power and privilege for Franciscan Mission Service, a lay Catholic organization that prepares and supports lay missioners living and serving in solidarity in host countries outside of the United States.
And each year as I help prepare (mostly white) Franciscan missioners to live and serve in communities across cultural and racial differences, we talk about how vital it is for white folks to not only recognize and process our feelings of guilt when addressing the violence of racism and white supremacy, but also to move with that guilt into a focus on accountability
Accountability is a step beyond apologizing, a leap beyond feeling guilty.
It is pretty basic on a personal level: when someone hurts me I expect their apology, but that apology means nothing without accountability.
Accountability means that the person who hurt me not only apologizes for the harm caused but also makes a demonstrable commitment to change, to act and do differently from now on.
So for white Catholic folks who believe in Gospel values of social justice, inclusion and radical conversion, what if we treated this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to practice accountability?
Now that you know that the Thanksgiving holiday is not celebrating what you had been taught, how does your faith call you to respond? How might your conscience move you?
As white folks whose privilege and power was built on the genocide of indigenous peoples, what might practicing accountability mean for us on an individual, communal and even national level?
How might you move with your guilt into making concrete changes in what you do and how you act this upcoming holiday season? How might you choose to educate yourself further about this history? How might you share what you are learning and open conversations with other white folks about these challenging topics?
What might accountability mean at the level of the Catholic church?
While the Catholic church has in some circumstances recognized and publicly apologized for generations of sexual abuse in indigenous communities and Catholic boarding schools, what would it mean to move beyond apologies and focus more on accountability? What structural changes would need to be made? How might power dynamics necessarily change? What could you do to affect that change?
This holiday season is just a place to start. For white people, reflecting on accountability can become a part of a daily spiritual practice. We are invited to ask ourselves, how are we accountable to those most marginalized among us? How are we accountable to the immigrants, the refugees, the asylum seekers and the communities of color across our country surviving the terrors of police violence?
Now that we know, we cannot un-know our collective history. But, we can choose to humbly listen to marginalized experiences, actively educate ourselves to combat our ignorance, and courageously challenge our privilege and power in order to grow.
We can choose to confront the weak and problematic foundations of our communities and invest in radical change in order to rebuild on a stronger foundation of trust and accountability.
ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER
Annemarie grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Bolivia, South America. Her spiritual journey has been greatly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement and the Franciscan charism of humble availability and deep solidarity. She has also been influenced and transformed by the unique experience of spending most of her life in Western, capitalist culture and now living for years in Andean culture that is much more communal and rooted in the wisdom of indigenous communities. Today, she lives and farms with her partner and also creates and sells her original art under the name AEB Art.
I recently read a first person account of a meal in 1620 (account published in 1621) celebrating gratitude for the harvest of that year. The settlers invited the “Indians” to the feast, and they replied by bringing venison to add to the table. The first “Thanksgiving”?
Hi Pauline, while I am also familiar with the account that you mentioned it unfortunately does not mean that the rest of the history of colonization of indigenous people in North America was not genocidal. My hope with this post is to challenge the white washing of that history that many of us participate in when we focus solely on that wholesome account of a “first Thanksgiving” as if it could pardon the gruesome history that followed it or could condone the power and privilege gained by settlers and generations of white people thereafter through genocide.
I believe that when we celebrate one wholesome story of a “first Thanksgiving” while denying and distracting ourselves from the rest of the awful history, we participate in the erasure and continued colonization of indigenous people still living in North America today. I think we can do better. One way to start is by opening ourselves up to other accounts of the rest of the story so that we can grow in understanding and learn to be more accountable.
Great piece. Thank you for encouraging us to always act on our abilities to make this world a better place.
You must log in to post a comment.