We are 400 years from the first Thanksgiving and our lack of progress saddens me.
This Thursday will be the first Thanksgiving under President-Elect Trump. In years past, I have valued a day focused on gratitude even as I blanched at the traditional, romanticized version of the pilgrim’s Thanksgiving.
But honestly, this year I don’t feel like pausing to give thanks. It’s not that I don’t have anything to be grateful for—I am humbled every day by the wonderful people who surround me and all that has been given to me. It’s more that my anger and fear at how the world is about to change supersedes all other emotions right now.
We are 400 years from the first Thanksgiving and our lack of progress saddens me. As a whole, white men have spent these centuries insatiably seeking to increase their bounty with no thought to the harm done. First they killed indigenous populations, then imported slaves from Africa, then raped the natural resources of our country. Now they once again seek to put the majority of the American population under their heels.
How can I make sense of Thanksgiving in Trump’s America?
My family will likely survive the coming storm. Even though I am a woman, a member of the LGBTQ community, and have a disability, I am also white, middle class, and well-educated. I have access to many resources.
That said, I am painfully aware that much of my status arises from social constructs that create a world of oppressors and oppressed. I don’t want to celebrate what I have in this social climate. It’s like celebrating Thanksgiving as a sign of friendship between pilgrims and Native Americans while ignoring the ensuing Manifest Destiny and genocide.
I am also trying not to sink into the morass of white guilt, living as though my apologizing for my privilege somehow makes it easier for more oppressed people to stomach. I am protesting the actions of the new government. I can and will donate my time and money over this holiday season in hopes of doing some good in a gray world. However, I even have mixed emotions about that.
Why have we created a society where the disadvantaged rely on the largesse of others to provide food, clothes, or shelter? Why not a system where everyone gets what they need in the first round of distribution, leaving no one dependent on the whims of others?
The thing is, Thanksgiving is based on a misguided principal of being thankful for the bountiful harvest, our overflowing cornucopias. The symbolism is fine as long as we consider our friends and family to be our true riches, but a lot of us don’t set that limit. We leave the Thanksgiving dinner table to stand in line for Black Friday sales. We tear down others to achieve the economic privilege and social status we covet. It tears the world apart. I would be much more thankful to live in a world where everyone was content to simply have enough.
So this Thanksgiving I will give my gratitude to the people past and present who have dreamed of something better. As harrowing as a Trump presidency seems, I am heartened by the numbers of people who are rising up to fight this white nationalist movement. We haven’t gotten it right in 400 years, but maybe 500 will be the charm. I cling to this idea because while I struggle with being thankful at the state of the world today, I could certainly use a day of hope.
Anne Penniston Grunsted writes about parenting, disability, and family life from her perspective as a lesbian mama. She has been published in The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamamia, and won the 2014 Nonfiction prize from Beecher’s Magazine. She lives in California with her partner and son.