"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Punishing “Predators” Will Not Save Us

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2017 at 4:46 pm
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Protesters attend a “Me Too” rally to denounce sexual harassment and assaults of women in Los Angeles, California, on November 12, 2017. (Photo: Ronen Tivony / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Oldspeak: “The powerful men who’ve been outed for harassment, assault and other abuses are not going to prison, for the most part — and even if they did, would they become less harmful? Punishment-based approaches to social harms are the default in our society, but they have consistently availed us nothing. Few rapists ever see the inside of a jail cell, whereas 86 percent of women who have spent time in jail are survivors of sexual violenceMarginalized women face continued criminalization for acting in their own defense, and across the board, US prisoners face alarming rates of sexual violence while confined. But in this supposed watershed moment, high-profile white women, whose voices have been loudly amplified, have offered little critique of the carceral and punitive approaches that have only added additional layers of abuse and exploitation to an already violent society

Are we creating an environment where survivors are more supported? Has the average, working-class survivor been given new tools with which to halt their abuse? What about survivors living in the margins, whose cries are often unheard, even when they have disclosed? And will this fleeting moment, of simply naming and condemning “predators,” bring neglected survivors closer to the care and resources they need? Will it transform the people who harmed them? I think not….

So, what is this cultural moment accomplishing? For one thing, it is feeding a conflation that will ultimately be weaponized against the marginalized. I know no one wants to hear it, but let’s challenge ourselves to take a look backward, at the history of criminalization and punishment. There have been other historical moments when a lewd comment or gesture (or the perception or accusation of such) evoked the same rage and response as an all-out assault. ​Throughout US history, in the eyes of the law and white society, Black and Brown men and boys have been viewed as potential predators. Historically, those who have been deemed “predators” have been ensnared by social mechanisms that were supposedly geared toward “public safety.” If you’re thinking, “the men who are being brought down now are white and powerful, so these situations aren’t comparable,” I would ask you to consider what happens when the high-profile white women who’ve taken the wheel, in this social moment, get out of the car and move on to other things. That car will still be in motion, but who will be driving? And who will they run down?….

Treating people who commit sexual violence as outliers, who can simply be ejected from our society, will not unravel the norms, policies and practices that make sexual violence inevitable in this society. Pretending we can effectively address the problem with a smattering of takedowns will actually reinforce those norms, policies and practices.” –Kelly Hayes

“Yeeeesssss…. Brilliant, contextualized and nuanced analysis of the current media frenzy around harasser shaming. Focusing attention on well known personalities doesn’t allow for the deep critical analysis necessary to truly deal with root causes of behavioral patterns  grounded in patriarchal systems of racial and gender based oppression and domination that have been in place for eons. Will we change how we rear our male youth? Will we stop imbuing them with madness like  “boys don’t cry”, “be aggressive” “be competitive”, “dominate the competition”, “don’t be a pussy”, “you (insert insulted behaviour here) like a girl”?  Will we stop condoning violence when “justified”? Telling them feelings, emotions, compassion & empathy are only for girls? Will we stop teaching them to exploit others weaknesses?  We see this violence, abuse and exploitation replicated in how we treat other species and our Great Mother Earth. Is there any wonder that violence, abuse and oppression of women is the norm here? A pervasive, global phenomenon in this barbaric culture of cruelty? These conditions will not change with more punishment & condemnation of  “predators”. These conditions will not change due to virtue signaling women’s marches, rallies & protests.   Actual change will require root level rethinking of how we raise men.  It will require deprogramming and decolonizing of minds and ways of being. How we define manhood. Of the behaviors reinforced and condoned by men. A global renunciation of pathological patriarchy. Short of that sadly we can expect more of the same, ad infinitum.” –Jevon

Written By Kelly Hayes @ Truthout:

Ten years before Alyssa Milano turned #MeToo into a viral hashtag, the concept was created by Tarana Burke, a Black grassroots organizer, as a means to help survivors, particularly survivors of color, get the support they need. Recently, the hashtag quickly galvanized a post-Weinstein movement to expose men whose harassment and assault had gone either unseen or unacknowledged. As the hashtag gained popularity, Burke acknowledged feeling “a sense of dread,” because “something that was part of my life’s work was going to be co-opted and taken from me and used for a purpose that I hadn’t originally intended.” But within days, Burke had been credited for the concept, and granted some amount of attention, which for many, was enough to silence concerns about whether the moment reflected Burke’s crucial purpose — to help and support survivors.

Punishment-based approaches to social harms are the default in our society, but they have consistently availed us nothing.

“What the Me Too campaign really does, and what Tarana Burke has really enabled us to do, is put the focus back on the victims,” Milano said in an interview with Robin Roberts.

But has the evolution of this cultural moment, as Milano claims, actually put the focus on victims? In recent weeks, I have seen a steady stream of allegations, but what I have not noticed is a larger public conversation about how to materially and emotionally support victims. I have seen no increase in advocacy for programs that help survivors access resources. Conversations about prevention are usually reduced to catchphrases about “teaching your sons not to rape” — a process that has no established road map in a culture of rape. And then there are the takedowns, which are treated as ends in themselves, as though robbing some powerful men of some of the trappings of fame materially alters the landscape of sexual violence.

Somehow, in the hands of powerful white women like Milano, a moment of solidarity and a discussion of how we can support survivors became a large-scale mission to take “these men” down. So, they’re being brought down. Now what?

The powerful men who’ve been outed for harassment, assault and other abuses are not going to prison, for the most part — and even if they did, would they become less harmful? Punishment-based approaches to social harms are the default in our society, but they have consistently availed us nothing. Few rapists ever see the inside of a jail cell, whereas 86 percent of women who have spent time in jail are survivors of sexual violence. Marginalized women face continued criminalization for acting in their own defense, and across the board, US prisoners face alarming rates of sexual violence while confined. But in this supposed watershed moment, high-profile white women, whose voices have been loudly amplified, have offered little critique of the carceral and punitive approaches that have only added additional layers of abuse and exploitation to an already violent society.

Will this fleeting moment, of simply naming and condemning “predators,” bring neglected survivors closer to the care and resources they need?

It is possible that renewed interest in rape survivor Cyntoia Brown’s case could mark the beginning of a larger public dialogue about the criminalization of survivors. But given Cyntoia’s extraordinary circumstances — including the fact that she was trafficked as a child and has pursued higher education while incarcerated — it seems more likely that her case will be approached as an anomaly, rather than one that exposes a system that grinds survivors under. Meanwhile, the emphasis of the vast majority of public conversations remains on the allegations and the perpetrators, not on supporting survivors.

I will admit, I was here for the takedowns, for a moment. I am not sorry rapists and those who have harassed are losing their jobs or the respect of their peers. What I am worried about is what we are building right now, and what we are not building.

Are we creating an environment where survivors are more supported? Has the average, working-class survivor been given new tools with which to halt their abuse? What about survivors living in the margins, whose cries are often unheard, even when they have disclosed? And will this fleeting moment, of simply naming and condemning “predators,” bring neglected survivors closer to the care and resources they need? Will it transform the people who harmed them? I think not.

As a Native person, I am acutely aware of sexual violence, and the ways in which it is invisibilized. Fifty-six percent of Native women have experienced sexual violence — which means Native women are 2.5 times as likely to experience sexual violence as any other group. I do not expect that the current flurry of celebrity takedowns will have much impact on the violence Native people experience, or even spur a greater awareness of that violence, or the transformative efforts to overcome it.

So, what is this cultural moment accomplishing? For one thing, it is feeding a conflation that will ultimately be weaponized against the marginalized. I know no one wants to hear it, but let’s challenge ourselves to take a look backward, at the history of criminalization and punishment. There have been other historical moments when a lewd comment or gesture (or the perception or accusation of such) evoked the same rage and response as an all-out assault. ​Throughout US history, in the eyes of the law and white society, Black and Brown men and boys have been viewed as potential predators. Historically, those who have been deemed “predators” have been ensnared by social mechanisms that were supposedly geared toward “public safety.” If you’re thinking, “the men who are being brought down now are white and powerful, so these situations aren’t comparable,” I would ask you to consider what happens when the high-profile white women who’ve taken the wheel, in this social moment, get out of the car and move on to other things. That car will still be in motion, but who will be driving? And who will they run down?

We already know.

When we demand total disposal of “bad” people as a social standard, we are creating a social mechanism. When we put serial rapists in the same category as people who say, or once said, terrible things, we are creating a social mechanism. When we foster that conflation, and call everyone it encompasses “predator,” we are creating a social mechanism. When we demand the disposal of all such “predators,” we are creating a social mechanism. Sometimes, those mechanisms are enacted at a personal level; sometimes, they are codified, like the “three strikes” laws Hillary Clinton pushed forward by vilifying Black children.

Personally, I am working to root the word “predator” out of my vocabulary because we aren’t hunting for predators in an otherwise pristine forest. The forest itself is on fire.

When everyone who broke a law, any law, became a “criminal,” a social mechanism was born.

When Black children became “super predators,” a social mechanism was born — one that fed Black children to the prison industrial complex.

When conflations and generalizations that render people disposable are loosed upon the world, I worry about where they will land, because, on a long enough timeline, they will always land in the same places.

Personally, I am working to root the word “predator” out of my vocabulary. I always knew it was a term that dehumanized, but some harms would provoke me to spit out a word I knew was harmful and ugly. However, in the current climate of conflation, the word “predator” could mean anything, and therefore means nothing. It’s not a meaningful characterization. It’s a garbage chute into which people are being tossed.

If you’re thinking, “Well, these men are garbage,” I would counter that if that’s the case, we are still swimming in trash, and merely celebrating the removal of a few Hefty bags.

As much as we would like to “other” harassers and abusers — marking them as separate from ourselves — “predators” are human beings, as are your friends and family members, and many of you, who have at times crossed lines and broken boundaries. I believe that many such people can transform their harms. My first concern, however, is to support the healing of survivors, which is what I thought I was doing when I wrote my #MeToo post. In truth, that’s what #MeToo still means to me, because the need for us to find each other and heal and love, and our ability to transform the world that hurt us — that’s all still there when we are ready to do the harder work.

People like Tarana Burke were doing that difficult work long before this viral moment, and will continue to do so long after it has passed.

Treating people who commit sexual violence as outliers, who can simply be ejected from our society, will not unravel the norms, policies and practices that make sexual violence inevitable in this society. Pretending we can effectively address the problem with a smattering of takedowns will actually reinforce those norms, policies and practices.

We aren’t hunting for predators in an otherwise pristine forest. The forest itself is on fire. It always has been. And when the predator hunt ends, we’ll still be standing in the flames.

=========================================================================

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes is Truthout’s social media strategist, as well as a contributing writer. She is also a direct action trainer and a cofounder of The Chicago Light Brigade and the direct action collective Lifted Voices. Kelly’s contribution to Truthout’s anthology Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? stems from her work as an organizer and her ongoing analysis of movements in the United States. Her work can also be found on her blog, Transformative Spaces, in Yes! Magazine, BGD and the BGD anthology The Solidarity Struggle: How People of Color Succeed and Fail At Showing Up For Each Other In the Fight For Freedom. Kelly is also a movement photographer whose work is featured in the “Freedom and Resistance” exhibit of the DuSable Museum of African American History.

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Healing Begins With Gratitude

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2017 at 1:49 am
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Photo by Harry Burk.

Oldspeak: “All you need is already within you, only you must approach your self with reverence and love. Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors. Your constant flight from pain and search for pleasure is a sign of love you bear for your self, all I plead with you is this: make love of your self perfect. Deny yourself nothing — glue your self infinity and eternity and discover that you do not need them; you are beyond…..

It is always the false that makes you suffer, the false desires and fears, the false values and ideas, the false relationships between people. Abandon the false and you are free of pain; truth makes happy, truth liberates” –Maharaj

The great open secret of gratitude is that it is not dependent on external circumstance. It’s like a setting or channel that we can switch to at any moment, no matter what’s going on around us. It helps us connect to our basic right to be here, like the breath does. It’s a stance of the soul. In systems theory, each part contains the whole. Gratitude is the kernel that can flower into everything we need to know.

Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more—more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us. Elders of indigenous cultures have retained this knowledge, and we can learn from their practices. -Johana Macy

 

“Whew. In this era of infinite growth society, where gluttonous hyperconsumption is viewed as occasion for hedonistic holiday celebrations, where more is never enough, where hungry ghosts rule,  Maharaj & Macy’s words of self-reverence, love and gratitude pierce the veils of illusion we’re shrouded in. In this time of the Great Turning, where the very peoples who are best equipped to heal this burning earth and the weitko infected humanity that is destroying it are under relentless assault, we would do well to make ourselves more familiar with their divine knowledge and ways of being. Develop the capacity to see our wounds, have compassion and gratitude for them and have the courage and strong determination to create space for our wounds and sickness to heal. Seeing that all we need to heal is within us. Not dependent on external circumstances. To be grateful for ALL, to find the liberation from pain, suffering and inadequacy that gratitude brings. To realize that we are Beyond. Beyond all the bullshit we take ourselves and “others” to be. To know that we are irrevocably inter-being with all that Is, and that there is nothing to fear. Renouncing, the false; judgement, separation, condemnation & hatred of self and “others” and seeing that All Is One, All Is Self. Make a habit of practicing gratitude. Cherish and enjoy your ride on this spiral of Life. You are perfect just as you are, here and now.” -Jevon

Written By Johana Macy @ Lion’s Roar:

We have received an inestimable gift. To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe—to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it—is a wonder beyond words. It is an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, with self-reflexive consciousness that brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world.

Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Yet we so easily take this gift for granted. That is why so many spiritual traditions begin with thanksgiving, to remind us that for all our woes and worries, our existence itself is an unearned benefaction, which we could never of ourselves create.

In the Tibetan Buddhist path we are asked to pause before any period of fmeditative practice and precede it with reflection on the preciousness of a human life. This is not because we as humans are superior to other beings, but because we can “change the karma.” In other words, graced with self-reflexive consciousness, we are endowed with the capacity for choice—to take stock of what we are doing and change directions. We may have endured for eons of lifetimes as other life-forms, under the heavy hand of fate and the blind play of instinct, but now at last we are granted the ability to consider and judge and make decisions. Weaving our ever more complex neural circuits into the miracle of self-awareness, life yearned through us for the ability to know and act and speak on behalf of the larger whole. Now the time has come when by our own choice we can consciously enter the dance.

In Buddhist practice, that first reflection is followed by a second, on the brevity of this precious human life: “Death is certain; the time of death is uncertain.” That reflection awakens in us the precious gift of the present moment—to seize this chance to be alive right now on Planet Earth.

Even in the Dark

That our world is in crisis—to the point where survival of conscious life on Earth is in question—in no way diminishes the value of this gift; on the contrary. To us is granted the privilege of being on hand: to take part, if we choose, in the Great Turning to a just and sustainable society. We can let life work through us, enlisting all our strength, wisdom, and courage, so that life itself can continue.

There is so much to be done, and the time is so short. We can proceed, of course, out of grim and angry desperation. But the tasks proceed more easily and productively with a measure of thankfulness for life; it links us to our deeper powers and lets us rest in them. Many of us are braced, psychically and physically, against the signals of distress that continually barrage us in the news, on our streets, in our environment. As if to reduce their impact on us, we contract like a turtle into its shell. But we can choose to turn to the breath, the body, the senses—for they help us to relax and open to wider currents of knowing and feeling.

The great open secret of gratitude is that it is not dependent on external circumstance. It’s like a setting or channel that we can switch to at any moment, no matter what’s going on around us. It helps us connect to our basic right to be here, like the breath does. It’s a stance of the soul. In systems theory, each part contains the whole. Gratitude is the kernel that can flower into everything we need to know.

Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more—more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us. Elders of indigenous cultures have retained this knowledge, and we can learn from their practices.

Learning from the Onondaga

Elders of the six-nation confederacy of the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois, have passed down through the ages the teachings of the Great Peacemaker. A thousand years ago, they had been warring tribes, caught in brutal cycles of attack, revenge, and retaliation, when he came across Lake Ontario in a stone canoe. Gradually his words and actions won them over, and they accepted the Great Law of Peace. They buried their weapons under the Peace Tree by Lake Onondaga and formed councils for making wise choices together, and for self-governance. In the Haudenosaunee, historians recognize the oldest known participatory democracy and point to the inspiration it provided to Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and others in crafting the Constitution of the United States. That did not impede American settlers and soldiers from taking by force most of the Haudenosaunees’ land and decimating their populations.

Eventually accorded “sovereign” status, the Haudenosaunee nations—all except for the Onondaga—proceeded in recent decades to sue state and federal governments for their ancestral lands, winning settlements in cash and license for casinos. All waited and wondered what legal action would be brought by the Onondaga Nation, whose name means Keepers of the Central Fire and whose ancestral land, vastly larger than the bit they now control, extends in a wide swath from Pennsylvania to Canada. But the Onondaga elders and clan mothers continued to deliberate year after year, seeking consensus on this issue that would shape the fate of their people for generations to come. Finally, in the spring of 2005, they made their legal move. In their land rights claim, unlike that of any other indigenous group in America, they did not demand the return of any ancestral land or monetary compensation for it. They asked for one thing only: that it be cleaned up and restored to health for the sake of all who presently live on it, and for the sake of their children and children’s children.

To state and federal power-holders, this was asking a lot. The land is heavily contaminated by industrial development, including big chemical processing plants and a number of neglected toxic waste sites. Onondaga Lake, on whose shores stood the sacred Peace Tree, is considered to be more polluted with heavy metals than any in the country. Within a year, at the urging of the governor of New York, the court dismissed the Onondaga claim as invalid and too late.

On a bleak November afternoon, when the suit was still in process, I visited the Onondaga Nation—a big name for this scrap of land that looks like a postage stamp on maps of Central New York. I had come because I was moved by the integrity and vision of their land rights claim, and now I saw how few material resources they possess to pursue it. In the community center, native counselors described outreach programs for mental health and self-esteem, bringing young people together from all the haudenosaunee. To help with the expenses, other tribes had chipped in, but few contributions had been received from the richer ones.

They were eager for me to see the recently built school where young Onondagans, who choose not to go off the Nation to U.S.-run schools, can receive an education. a teacher named Frieda, who was serving for a while as a clan mother, had waited after hours to show me around. The central atrium she led me into was hung about with shields of a dozen clans— turtle clan, bear clan, frog—and on the floor illumined by the sky light was a large green turtle, beautifully wrought of inlaid wood. “here is where we gather the students for our daily morning assembly,” Frieda explained. “We begin, of course, with the thanksgiving. Not the real, traditional form of it, because that takes days. We do it very short, just twenty minutes or so.” Turning to gaze at her face, I sank down on a bench. She heard my silent request and sat down too. raising her right hand in a circling gesture that spiraled downward as the fingers closed, she began. “Let us gather our minds as one mind and give thanks to grandfather Sun, who rises each day to bring light so we can see each others’ faces and warmth for the seeds to grow.” on and on she continued, greeting and thanking the life-giving presences that bless and nourish us all. With each one—moon, waters, trees—that lovely gesture was repeated. “We gather our minds as one mind.”

My eyes stayed riveted on her. What I was receiving through her words and gesture felt like an intravenous injection, right into my bloodstream. This, I knew, can teach us how to survive, when all possessions and comforts have been lost. When our honored place in the world is taken from us, this practice can hold us together in dignity and clear mind.

What Frieda gave me is a staple of haudenosaunee culture. The Mohawks have written down similar words, in an equally short form, so the rest of us can have it too. known as the Mohawk Thanksgiving Prayer, it begins:

The People

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.

Now our minds are one.

The Earth Mother

We are all thankful to our mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

And it concludes:

The Enlightened Teachers

We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. We send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.

Now our minds are one.

The Creator

Now we turn our thoughts to the creator, or great spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. for all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the creator.

Now our minds are one.

Closing Words

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.

Now our minds are one.

The Spiral

There are hard things to face in our world today, if we want to be of use. Gratitude, when it’s real, offers no blinders. on the contrary, in the face of devastation and tragedy it can ground us, especially when we’re scared. It can hold us steady for the work to be done.

The activist’s inner journey appears to me like a spiral, interconnecting four successive stages or movements that feed into each other. These four are: 1) opening to gratitude, 2) owning our pain for the world, 3) seeing with new eyes, and 4) going forth. The sequence repeats itself, as the spiral circles round, but ever in new ways. The spiral is fractal in nature: it can characterize a lifetime or a project, and it can also happen in a day or several times a day.

The spiral begins with gratitude, because that quiets the frantic mind and brings us back to source. It reconnects us with basic goodness and our personal power. It helps us to be more fully present to our world. That grounded presence provides the psychic space for acknowledging the pain we carry for our world.

In owning this pain, and daring to experience it, we learn that our capacity to “suffer with” is the true meaning of compassion. We begin to know the immensity of our heart-mind and how it helps us to move beyond fear. What had isolated us in private anguish now opens outward and delivers us into wider reaches of our world as lover, world as self.

The truth of our inter-existence, made real to us by our pain for the world, helps us see with new eyes. It brings fresh understandings of who we are and how we are related to each other and the universe. We begin to comprehend our own power to change and heal. We strengthen by growing living connections with past and future generations, and our brother and sister species.

Then, ever again, we go forth into the action that calls us. With others whenever and wherever possible, we set a target, lay a plan, step out. We don’t wait for a blueprint or fail-proof scheme; for each step will be our teacher, bringing new perspectives and opportunities. Even when we don’t succeed in a given venture, we can be grateful for the chance we took and the lessons we learned. and the spiral begins again.

Then all the work I put my hand to
widens from turn to turn.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Thanksgiving Distorts History And Sugarcoats Continuing State Violence Against Indigenous People

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2017 at 6:02 pm

 

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While often valorized as a time of celebration characterized by the benign coming together of friends and family, Thanksgiving is also a holiday that actively elides the genocidal violence that has made the US. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout, after Jean Leon Gerome Ferris)

Oldspeak: “Happy Indigenous Peoples Murder Day. :-< Words about the day from the perspective of a Indigenous American.” –Jevon

Written By Jaskiran Dhillon @ Truthout:

It’s that time of year again. Step into any retail outlet and one is immediately confronted with a plethora of pumpkin products and leafy, decorative centerpieces for the dinner table. Families gather in groups, big and small, to engage in some form of “giving thanks.” Gluttonous feasting and football are hallmarks of this annual, federal holiday that finds its roots back in the 1600s and the conventional trope of English pilgrims in Massachusetts. Less talked about, though, and even actively suppressed in some cases, are the ways that Thanksgiving — in material and symbolic practice — is yet another avenue for the distortion of colonial history through the elevation and circulation of settler memory and nostalgia. While often valorized and rationalized as a time of celebration characterized by the benign coming together of friends and family, it is also a holiday that actively elides the genocidal violence that has made the US. It is a state-sanctioned endorsement of the erasure of Indigenous peoples and their lived experiences and resistance efforts, both past and present.

The celebratory zeal of the day is part of the state’s machinery that allows us to abdicate political responsibility and turn a blind eye to the persistent colonial violence.

Stated otherwise: This holiday, like clockwork, ushers in more of the colonial same.

As a public scholar and educator who thinks deeply about colonial histories and contemporary realities, the widespread and normalized festivities during “Thanksgiving” have always made me feel profoundly uncomfortable. In particular, I’ve been troubled by the way this “holiday” reproduces notions of American benevolence and innocence, reinforcing the idea that the United States was born out of justice, liberty and goodwill instead of war, murder, slavery and the vicious seizure and occupation of Indigenous homelands (the real story). Thanksgiving tells the tale of peaceful settlement, of a conciliatory arrival at coexistence with the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. The celebratory zeal of the day reinforces collective and shared meaning of these nationalistic sentiments by keeping an imagined version of the United States alive in the hearts and minds of millions of white settlers and their descendants who, unquestionably, reap the material benefits from the immense harm that has been done, and continues to be done, to Indigenous lands and bodies. It is part of the state’s machinery that allows us to abdicate political responsibility and turn a blind eye to the persistent colonial violence that is so clearly evidenced in the criminalization and incarceration of Indigenous peoples, the ongoing dismissal and violation of treaty rights, the encroachment of extractive industries onto Indigenous homelands and sacred sites, and the rampant gender violence that has become part of the everyday realities for so many Indigenous women, children and youth — egregious violence that seems to exist outside the bounds of the law.

Thanksgiving is the symbolic embodiment of the story white Americans like to tell themselves about who they are and what they stand for.

Contrary to the well-rehearsed response that one often faces when offering an intellectual and political critique of Thanksgiving, it is not simply a “holiday.” Like Columbus Day and the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving is the symbolic embodiment of the story white Americans like to tell themselves about who they are and what they stand for. And this is what I tell my students when they ask me why I call for the critical interrogation of this so-called holiday.

For the past few months, I have been teaching an undergraduate/graduate seminar in the Global Studies program at The New School, my home university. It is a course that was designed to work in purposeful opposition to the unfailing denial of colonial history and ongoing violence against Indigenous peoples in the present that is so pervasive throughout the mainstream education systems (both secondary and post-secondary) and media outlets in the United States. In many ways, it serves as an antithesis to Thanksgiving itself. Grounded in a version of revolutionary red pedagogy advanced by Quechua scholar Sandy Grande, the class takes students on a journey through competing versions about the “truth” of the United States. It does so by excavating knowledge that has been deliberately subjugated, and by asking essential and difficult questions that destabilize what we think we know about the places where we build our lives.

Throughout the evolution of this course, my students have faced unsettling realities — including developing an awareness of their own complicity in reproducing colonial relations of domination. Week after week, students have collectively read the scholarship of Indigenous writers: a revolutionary move in its own right given the whiteness of the curriculum in most institutions of higher education. Week after week, they have systematically analyzed the colonial founding of what we now call the United States of America through anti-colonial accounts of history and politics. Week after week, they have pushed themselves, each other, and me, to reject depictions of Indigenous peoples as remnants of a bygone past and instead view them through the frame of the active presence. They are now recognizing them as leaders in a global fight for decolonization, freedom and environmental justice worldwide. They are coming to see them as communities of Nations who have been maintaining their own kinship relations and ways of being while living under conditions of violent occupation. They view them as the First Peoples of the territory many of my students call home. These discussions, not surprisingly, have also been characterized by the enduring question of how to actively organize alongside Indigenous peoples — responsibly and ethically, in ways that lift up Indigenous social movements for revolutionary change as opposed to co-opting or working against them, often without even knowing it.

This has not been an easy process for my students, nor is their (re)education complete. But it is a step in the right direction. More so, the collective work we have begun to do serves as an example of what is possible when we step back and adopt a more radical politics when it comes to challenging the social and political meaning of holidays like Thanksgiving. It gives us some sense of how we can tackle the intensely racist backdrop against which this “holiday” has emerged, and to think critically about what it would mean to support political sovereignty and self-determination for the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, upon whose land all of us reside.

 

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Jaskiran Dhillon is a first generation academic and advocate who grew up on Treaty Six Cree/Métis Territory in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her work spans the fields of settler colonialism, anthropology of the state, anti-racist feminism, colonial violence and youth studies. Her first book, Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention (2017), provides a critical, ethnographic account of state interventions in the lives of urban Indigenous youth. She is currently an assistant professor of global studies and anthropology at The New School in New York City.