The Oppression of Thanksgiving and Ways to Decolonize It


One of GO Humanity’s main values is the concept of Shared Power, Local Power. We recognize that people impacted by hardship are experts in their own needs, and we center communities seeking liberation and empowerment. The below blog comes from a member of several such communities.

The aroma of pumpkin, sweet potatoes, turkey and veggie mixtures will be filling the homes of many people this holiday (Thanksgiving) season. Happy feelings about food, drinks, and sweets! Unfortunately, it’s not viewed as celebratory in any way for some cultures and individuals.

This writing is not to deter anyone from having moments with family and loved ones. However, it is important to acknowledge the feelings, knowledge and historic sacrifice many indigenous and African American people were subjected to around this “holiday.”

Let’s rewind….

In school many of us were taught a rather whitewashed version of history in all subjects! Do you remember tracing your hand to make a turkey? Coloring pages and handouts with all of the fall colors? Writing down reasons and things to be thankful for? Maybe even being asked to dress up. (For me as a kid I was even chosen to be a Wamponoag Indian. That would not have been bad except it was suggested that the tribe were great friends with the colonizers!)

The ultimate lie: Thanksgiving somehow became synonymous with God! You best be grateful for what you have. In short, the real story of Thanksgiving was revised. Why? Well, like everything else, it’s easier to deny and or rewrite the truth to avoid accountability and being exposed. Here in the U.S. and as many are observing in Florida the rise of revised history-a narrative that makes white supremacists comfortable.

The misleading themes around Thanksgiving are: Indigenous people and the Pilgrims (with the black hats) traded and bartered things. The way it’s taught in schools is as if there is some allegiance owed to this nation for them even showing up on their (Indigenous folks’) own land! Erasing the truth enables modern day colonizers to equate this historic colonization as American and patriotic.

There is nothing patriotic about celebrating stolen land or kidnapped people unless you consider war crimes admirable. European invaders used (and still do so) religion to rape, steal and commit genocide. White supremacists have a terrible habit of forgiving themselves for their crimes against humanity. Thanksgiving is an example of this.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving meant abuse of power. Bloodshed. In short, the pilgrims were not preaching the word or sharing anything of gratitude. They were not brave explorers. They were war criminals! They were rapists and thieves—they were the same developers that we now see in our most marginalized communities, that enforce gentrification and genocide. These individuals created a system of oppression, disregarded developed nations, dominated them and instilled their own systems.

There is a lot of historic information surrounding this horrific moment in time. This writing is to reveal some of that information, offer healing and ways to decolonize: to free a people or area from colonial status, and to relinquish control of a subjugated people or area.

Decolonizing Thanksgiving

Here are some ideas for Decolonizing an Oppressive Holiday such as Thanksgiving:

  1. Learn About Whose Lands You Are On. (I often acknowledge the stolen land of the native people and the forced labor of Africans) Try The Native Land App
  2. Learn the Real History. 
  3. Decolonize Your Dinner. (Learn native dishes)
  4. Listen to Indigenous Voices. This link is a really good
  5. Celebrate/Stand with Native People
  6. Study the history of Indigenous and African People
  7. End Racist Native Mascots

So, as stated earlier this writing is not to dampen holiday plans but hopefully illuminate them by embracing truth(s) that’s been hidden.

Years before Thanksgiving became a formalized national holiday, people celebrated the fall harvest. Families came together, shared stories, and even had heated conversations. This time of year encourages reflection and gratitude. Nevertheless, Thanksgiving only exists as a formal, national holiday because of the genocide of Indigenous tribes. We must find ways to rectify how America continues to benefit from the pain of oppressed people.

Colonizers never wanted Indigenous or Africans at their Thanksgiving Day festivals. Instead, they wanted them to sit on the floor. And, in the case of Black people, Europeans, and their descendants wanted them to leave America so that they could rejoice in their version of unity, ironically leaving out people who built the nation free of charge. Thanksgiving highlights America’s painful truth as many find delight in the success of their ancestors’ successful conquest. (Harmful Revisionist History, 2020)

These crimes committed in the past reflect how Americans maintain holidays that disregard others’ humanity. White supremacy is a system. But it can collectively be dismantled. We need to keep sharing the truth that Pilgrims were not heroes. The real heroes are the Indigenous tribes who defended their land and the African slaves who worked the land and tried to flee captivity. Black and Indigenous people do not feel thankful for white dominance.

If we continue to decolonize the mind, we can decolonize the institutions that blind us.

Robin Harris is an activist for Black, LGBTQIA, low-income, and other marginalized people. She is an organizer for Central Florida Mutual Aid and collaborates with GO Humanity service team Orlando Oasis on disaster recovery.


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