Considering Thanksgiving

Just for a moment, let’s think of America’s indigenous peoples as fully equal human beings.

If you ask the Wampanoag people, they will tell you that the “First Thanksgiving” actually involved not “finding corn” but in stealing it and looting childrens’ graves.

Ok, so I have lots of feelings about Thanksgiving, but honestly, Nezua at the Unapologetic Mexican does the job for me. He explains the mythology behind this holiday, the bullshit that was taught to all of us as children and still is taught to children to this day, though we know it is false. I really want to examine this. I really want other people to join me in critically examining this holiday.

But using Thanksgiving as a time to teach children about both the myth and the damage done behind the Myth is crucial. And I capitalize “myth” that second time because this is not about being contrary or “radical” or anything. Thanksgiving is probably the most popular and earliest-given justification for invasion, murder, imperialism, occupation, and “othering” that we know of in this country.

You tell ’em, Nezua.

Here’s another resource to get some facts on this holiday’s suppressed meaning, such as:

Fact: For many Indian people, “Thanksgiving” is a time of mourning, of remembering how a gift of generosity was rewarded by theft of land and seed corn, extermination of many from disease and gun, and near total destruction of many more from forced assimilation. As currently celebrated in this country, “Thanksgiving” is a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship.

That reminds me of when Seattle Public Schools started, and then closed four years later, an Office of Equity, Race and Learning Support. Among the several reasons that the office was closed this year was when [director Caprice] “Hollins was roundly criticized after she sent out a memo to teachers that listed “myths about the First Thanksgiving” and noted that “for many Indian people, ‘Thanksgiving’ is a time of mourning … As currently celebrated in this country, ‘Thanksgiving’ is a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship.” ” From the Seattle P-I.

Not only did she get fired for telling the whole story behind this holiday, the whole Office of Equity was summarily closed. Wow. Did she falsify her facts? No. All she did was respect indigenous children as fully equal to other children, and tell some tough truth about a beloved American tradition. This is a good example of people, in this case Seattle Public Schools, sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming “La La La La La!” Amongst her other misdeeds is that she sent some students and teachers to a white privilege conference. THE HORROR!

So celebrate your family, friends, and good eatin’ today, but keep in mind the real lessons this holiday has to teach about imperialism.

UPDATE 11/28/08- Check out this rad post on stuff white people do.

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27 thoughts on “Considering Thanksgiving

  1. But using Thanksgiving as a time to teach children about both the myth and the damage done behind the Myth is crucial. And I capitalize “myth” that second time because this is not about being contrary or “radical” or anything. Thanksgiving is probably the most popular and earliest-given justification for invasion, murder, imperialism, occupation, and “othering” that we know of in this country.

    Oh yes, let’s teach white children and adults how bad and laden with guilt they should be. I guessed I missed the guilt mongering class. Perhaps, after Thanksgiving we should have a remember the Aztecs day. You know, those nice pastoral Indians who once in a while did the following: in certain types of sacrifice the skin of a victim was peeled from her back and a priest would dress himself in her flayed skin-numerous children were also sacrificed. And, in our neck of the woods the Hurons, Miamis and Pawnees practiced cannabalism. Wow, talk about “othering” I’ll tale a few yams with those fingers please!

    By the way the Pilgrims didn’t see themselves as imperialists much like the Hurons didn’t think that they were doing anything wrong.

  2. Links please!

    Quick fact-check: The Aztecs didn’t live in present-day USA. Their culture is not relevant to this discussion of Thanksgiving.

    Why do you bring up cannibalism? That is also not relevant to this discussion of Thanksgiving. You do not link to your sources, but assuming that you are correct, are you suggesting that because some (not all!) indigenous peoples practiced cannibalism, they somehow deserved genocide at the hands of early whites? That conclusion doesn’t seem supportable.

    “You know, those nice pastoral Indians who once in a while did the following”

    Please be respectful. Indigenous people are human beings and exist in the real world right now in real time. No Native Americans currently practice cannibalism or human sacrifice, and your comments are incredibly offensive.

    “By the way the Pilgrims didn’t see themselves as imperialists”

    That’s no justification of their actions. Just because I don’t see myself as a murderer doesn’t excuse me from murder, for example.

    “Oh yes, let’s teach white children and adults how bad and laden with guilt they should be. I guessed I missed the guilt mongering class.”

    Do you feel guilty? I’m white. I don’t feel guilty. I didn’t ask to be born white. Nor did I bring up guilt in my post… why do you? As a white person, because I respect Native culture and people, I find it important and meaningful to respect the truth behind Thanksgiving and not play along with a myth that we all know isn’t true. Are you angry that I publicized my choice, and the facts that led to my choice? Isn’t knowledge always better than ignorance? I am committed to treating other people as equals, and that naturally extends to Native Americans.

    Why does this anger you?

  3. Henry,

    The fact that other cultures have negative aspects does not excuse anything our own culture does.
    The white people (my cultural ancestors, as none of mine got here before the mid-1800’s) who settled this country did so at the expense of the people who already lived here, pure and simple.
    To ignore this in our own cultural celebrations shows an arrogant disregard for others. It is not up to me to judge the conduct of the Aztecs, but I will give scrutiny to my own people and hold them to the highest standard I can.
    It is this same misunderstanding that leads people to decry Liberals as “America-Haters.” We do not hate America, we love it passionately and want to hold it to the highest of standards. How Germany, Pakistan, or China behave is not a reflection on me, my own country’s current and past conduct is.
    Cinch up your damn belt and accept a little responsibility. All that’s asked is a little acknowledgement of the flip side of our success.

  4. I am going to have to second the plea for citing your sources and also ask that you critically analyze such rumors that several native american groups were cannibals. Claims of cannibalism (throughout cultures and over different time periods) have been extremely exaggerated for shock value and for the sake of ‘othering’.

    I will also echo the other comments in saying that it is important to be respectful in your remarks of groups of which you are not a member. Creating additional hostility through mocking and false accusations is not beneficial to anyone.

  5. I am going to have to second the plea for citing your sources and also ask that you critically analyze such rumors that several native american groups were cannibals. Claims of cannibalism (throughout cultures and over different time periods) have been extremely exaggerated for shock value and for the sake of ‘othering’.

    Absolutely and I’m glad that you used the words (throughout cultures and over different time periods) since that is how I feel when these yearly tropes about the evil Pilgrims surface during Thanksgiving. One source I used is the book The Killing of History” by Keith Windschuttle who used the book The Aztecs by Inga Clendinnen.
    Claims of cannibalism/or the torture of Indian prisoners are a bit more sketchy but documented in various sources which you can obtain in your college/university libraries.

    Othering??? name me one society/ethnic group wich doesn’t other the other!

    The poster above you said that I need to take responsibility-for what? That was/is the kind of language used by those who for centuries murdered the Jews: since somehow all Jews were responsible for the Crucifixion!

    I teach American History at the college level. I always tell my students that the study of history is not the same as studying psychology or sociology. Much of history portrays the story of cruelty and war, not peace and equality. Reading about and studying the various Indian cultures is worthwhile but pretending that they reflect some period in time when everything was right with the world is simply not true.

  6. @ Henry.

    Thank you for citing a source.

    “that is how I feel when these yearly tropes about the evil Pilgrims surface during Thanksgiving.”

    I linked to sources in my original post. The website I linked to has documented everything on their Thanksgiving page very carefully, if you care to check, with multiple sources. Which part of what I posted do you doubt is true? Do you have any counter-sources to prove the opposite (that the Pilgrims didn’t steal from/kill the Natives whose land they invaded, etc)?

    “Othering??? name me one society/ethnic group wich doesn’t other the other!”

    Surely you realize this is terrible reasoning. Just because Timmy calls Johnny names, doesn’t make it okay for Johnny to call Timmy names.

    “The poster above you said that I need to take responsibility-for what? That was/is the kind of language used by those who for centuries murdered the Jews: since somehow all Jews were responsible for the Crucifixion!”

    This argument doesn’t make sense. Whites taking responsibility for their own history in America, stepping up and treating Indians as complete equals in society, doesn’t seem to have much to do with antisemitism. To the contrary, whites being responsible for past and current bigotry on their part would include owning up to white discrimination against Jews. You’ll have to be more clear what connection you’re trying to draw here.

    “pretending that they reflect some period in time when everything was right with the world is simply not true.”

    Who said that? Where does my post indicate that somehow Indians are superior to other ethnic groups? I that I have repeatedly said that Indians are equal to whites, not better. Nor did I make any claims that ancient Indian culture had no conflict. Whatever you are talking about, you didn’t read it on this website.

  7. I linked to sources in my original post. The website I linked to has documented everything on their Thanksgiving page very carefully, if you care to check, with multiple sources. Which part of what I posted do you doubt is true? Do you have any counter-sources to prove the opposite (that the Pilgrims didn’t steal from/kill the Natives whose land they invaded, etc)?
    ………….that’s not the point: it’s the insinuation that the Pilgrims sole mission was invasion and murder; and that somehow-as a white person-I must cloak myself in guilt! Plus other sources say that the seed corn was given/shared-so take your historical pick.

    Othering??? name me one society/ethnic group wich doesn’t other the other!”

    Surely you realize this is terrible reasoning. Just because Timmy calls Johnny names, doesn’t make it okay for Johnny to call Timmy names: this is more a play on the word “other.” This word is often used to explain how people of European descent don’t/won’t understand people from other ethnic groups-but the same theory is not applied to those “other”.

    This argument doesn’t make sense. Whites taking responsibility for their own history in America,. What in God’s Holy name does that mean? It’s not anti-semitism per see- but the language used against any group which incites envy, hatred, greed, group guilt and finally retribution. I’ve seen books on amazon.com (one writen by an Iowa University professor) which claims that white people are guilty of every crime against humanity from slavery-rape to genocide. That genocides have a long history or that slavery pre-dates 1621 seems to have no impact with those self styled anti-racists.

    To the contrary, whites being responsible for past and current bigotry on their part would include owning up to white discrimination against Jews. That’s just plain bizarre. My parents lived through 5 years of Nazi occupation and its best you don’t go there!

    I know you would like for people to be equal and to be treated equally. But that’s unlikely to happen. Our legal system-as imperfect as it is-does not treat all people the same. Ever wonder why there is a charge of: assault on a female but not a charge of assault on a male?

    Who said that? Where does my post indicate that somehow Indians are superior to other ethnic groups?………..of course you didn’t-though certain Indian cultures were quite superior to other Indian ethnic groups! Though I remember a student in a graduate school history class who was stunned to hear that not all of America’s Indians were gentle pastoralists.

  8. “This argument doesn’t make sense. Whites taking responsibility for their own history in America,. What in God’s Holy name does that mean? It’s not anti-semitism per see- but the language used against any group which incites envy, hatred, greed, group guilt and finally retribution.”

    What are you talking about? Again, I am not talking about guilt- you are the one who introduced that word to conversation. “Retribution”? You think teaching accurate history, which doesn’t paint whites as racially superior in every way, is going to fill whites with self-hatred to the point where we all arm ourselves and kill each other? If that’s what you think… well, that speaks for itself.

    “I’ve seen books on amazon.com (one writen by an Iowa University professor) which claims that white people are guilty of every crime against humanity from slavery-rape to genocide.”

    I didn’t write those books. Debate with those authors about their beliefs, debate with me about mine.

    “That genocides have a long history or that slavery pre-dates 1621 seems to have no impact with those self styled anti-racists.”

    Please refrain from personal insults when posting on this blog. I don’t see any spot on this post where I have denied any genocides. The topic of the OP is white genocide against Indians. Other ethnic groups who have committed genocide need to come to terms with that, just as whites need to come to terms with genocide committed by other whites. Can you please indicate where in my OP I denied the existence of a genocide?

    To the contrary, whites being responsible for past and current bigotry on their part would include owning up to white discrimination against Jews. That’s just plain bizarre. My parents lived through 5 years of Nazi occupation and its best you don’t go there!”

    Hold up there. It is okay for you to speak dismissively of Indians and their history, even though you aren’t of that ethnic group. However, somehow speaking of Jews and their history is off-limits? That doesn’t fly here. As it is, you were the one that introduced Judaism into this post. You can’t introduce a subject into conversation and then tell me I can’t discuss that subject. Especially when you show no respect towards genocide committed against one group, you cannot ask for special treatment because of your membership in a different group who has experienced genocide.

    “I know you would like for people to be equal and to be treated equally. But that’s unlikely to happen. Our legal system-as imperfect as it is-does not treat all people the same. Ever wonder why there is a charge of: assault on a female but not a charge of assault on a male?”

    Just because a goal is hard and requires work does not mean we should give up on it.

    Just because our legal system is imperfect does not mean we shouldn’t strive to correct its errors.

    You’ll have to cite your sources on that “assault on a female” stuff before I can respond. Sources that I can access on the internet, please.

    “Though I remember a student in a graduate school history class who was stunned to hear that not all of America’s Indians were gentle pastoralists.”

    I am not that grad student.

  9. Hold up there. It is okay for you to speak dismissively of Indians and their history, even though you aren’t of that ethnic group. However, somehow speaking of Jews and their history is off-limits.

    Me, insult you??? why would I do that? I may not agree with you but that is fine. By the way I’m not Jewish.

    I have never spoken dismissively of American Indians or any other racial/ethnic group-believe me all topics are open for discussion, including genocide(s). The term genocide (a 20th century word) is often an overused one but historically “genocides’ are not a 20th century invention as even the Bible (OT) notes a few of them. No one doubts the long history of anti-jewish discrimination but it does little good for any ethnic group to “own up” to past wrongs. I do not blame todays Germans for the sins of the previous generation.

    “Retribution”? You think teaching accurate history, which doesn’t paint whites as racially superior in every way, is going to fill whites with self-hatred to the point where we all arm ourselves and kill each other? If that’s what you think… well, that speaks for itself.”

    I’m not sure what you meant with this??? but, teaching what you called “accurate history,” is exactly that! The Europeans who came to this land came from societies where class, religion and social status were everything. We may not like it but they viewed themselves as being superior.

    “Just because our legal system is imperfect does not mean we shouldn’t strive to correct its errors.”
    Agreed!!!!

    I don’t have any sources for the “assault” question but in my full time job I sometimes work with people who have criminal records so i do have access to information. By the way there is also a “charge” of assault on a handicapped person. Therefore if I were to hit my DD nephew I would be charged with that-however, if he were to strike me he would not be charged due to his limited mental capacity.

    Thanks for all your responses………

  10. Henry, I think part of the problem with teaching “accurate” history that mollusk was trying to point out is who’s history are we teaching? White, straight, wealthy, Christian Europeans were not the only ones to come to what we call the U.S. They were not the only ones who aided in forming what it currently looks like. I suggest reading Ronald Takaki’s “A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America” for a good introduction to the histories of the U.S. which typically ignore.

    “You know, those nice pastoral Indians who once in a while did the following: in certain types of sacrifice the skin of a victim was peeled from her back and a priest would dress himself in her flayed skin-numerous children were also sacrificed.”
    If that is not dismissive and insulting, than I do not know what is.

    I do not wish to go off on a tangent, but there are many different issues within your comments about assault. What does having access to others’ records have to do with this? Also, surely you can understand why assaulting an individual who has a different interpretation of their own actions or perhaps limited physical (or mental) ablities or control is problematic.

    I am seeing some issues with realizing privilege. Perhaps stepping back and critically analyzing white privilege would be beneficial for future discussions about the above topics.

  11. “think part of the problem with teaching “accurate” history that mollusk was trying to point out is who’s history are we teaching? White, straight, wealthy, Christian Europeans were not the only ones to come to what we call the U.S. They were not the only ones who aided in forming what it currently looks like. I suggest reading Ronald Takaki’s “A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America” for a good introduction to the histories of the U.S. which typically ignore”

    It’s been awhile since I read Takaki’s book….but, hey when you mentioned, White, straight, wealthy and Christian isn’t that being somewhat dismissive as well? The majority of history books are fairly comprehensive but few people have the time or the impulse to search deeper into histories plots and subplots plus there is plenty of mis-information and mis-interpretation out there as well. For instance how many students/or the general public will pick up the book: the Slave Trade by Thomas Hughes (680 pages)? This book is a good counterpoint to those who believe that slavery originated when slaves were introduced to the Americas in the 16th century.

    “You know, those nice pastoral Indians who once in a while did the following: in certain types of sacrifice the skin of a victim was peeled from her back and a priest would dress himself in her flayed skin-numerous children were also sacrificed.”
    If that is not dismissive and insulting, than I do not know what is”….

    How is that insulting? If people want historical truths then that is what they will find. For instance some of my Muslim online friends loved to chat about American slavery but they had a difficult time admitting that their cultural/religious brethern were some of the most productive slavers in the world.

    “critically analyzing white privilege would be beneficial for future discussions about the above topics.”

    analyzing white privilege is like analyzing a pig in a mud hole-All you got is a pig with mud on him/her………there is no such thing as “white” privilege. Privilege has no color, it is neither moral or immoral, it can be used productively or un-productively. But go ahead-try to convince me otherwise.

    The question regarding asssault??> that was my answer to someone else….

  12. “hey when you mentioned, White, straight, wealthy and Christian isn’t that being somewhat dismissive as well?”

    Well, this is kinda what I’m trying to get at. Mentioning or critiquing dominant groups is not the equivalent of insulting, demeaning, or dismissing minorities and oppressed groups. So no, mentioning white, straight, wealthy Europeans and correctly identifying that they are overrepresented in the way history is taught is not dismissive.

    “How is that insulting? If people want historical truths then that is what they will find. ”

    On this blog I will always err on the side of caution. If several people feel that statements made were insulting, then I will discourage further statements of that nature. I feel the statement in question is easy enough to identify as insulting to Indians and their allies. There are historical truths, and then there is deliberately bringing up certain facts out of context to create a myopic and mean-spirited image of another ethnic group.

    “there is no such thing as “white” privilege. Privilege has no color, it is neither moral or immoral, it can be used productively or un-productively.”

    That’s a strange thing to say after engaging in a long discussion about white privilege in history. Our country clearly privileges white skin… it would be hard to argue otherwise on any level: health disparities, infant mortality, life expectancy, incarceration, wages, academic achievement, career advancement, personal wealth…. Same with male privilege, straight privilege, etc. Any instance of a group having privilege means that they are receiving unearned benefits in society that others who were not born into that group do not receive. This is the basis of just about all inequality in society. Any instance of this kind of privilege is wrong. None of this is particularly controversial- if this is new territory for you, feel free to learn more here.

  13. Well, this is kinda what I’m trying to get at. Mentioning or critiquing dominant groups is not the equivalent of insulting, demeaning, or dismissing minorities and oppressed groups. So no, mentioning white, straight, wealthy Europeans and correctly identifying that they are overrepresented in the way history is taught is not dismissive.

    I do not agree with your statement. In this day and age-and on this type of blog-the terms white, straight, wealthy, Europeans are meant as slights and not as mere facts. There is a criticism behind that statement.
    It is therefore fine to mention that the European Thanksgiving was nothing but justification for murder, imperialism (not a 16th century word) and occupation. Why, shucks, no one disagreed, so that means that most of the bloggers felt this was accurate. Fine, therefore I wrote the Europeans did not bring violence and murder to the Americas-it was already here!

    Privileges exist…but labelling a “privilege” as a particular privilege due to a race/ethnic group takes one down a slippery, and well travelled, racist slope. Not surprisingly no-one needs or bothers to define privilege. Except, of course, that white people have it and then-some how magically, need to give it up.

    Privilege is much to multi-layered to be wisked away into an Oz like egaliterean society. Much of what is considered privilege is wrapped around such concepts as intelligence, ability, leadership, strenght, family, money, looks, gender and religion. And, what I read above is often translated into the mantra of blaming whitey.
    There are numerous other causes behind the issue of health care, academic achievement, incarceration and they have nothing to do with so called “white” privilege. Ever been to the Appalachians? Huge pockets of white poverty, poor schools, lots of unemployment, disease and pregnant teens. These are good, proud and stubborn people-they may want change-but on their own terms. And the idea of white privilege would make them laugh.

    ” Same with male privilege, straight privilege, etc. Any instance of a group having privilege means that they are receiving unearned benefits in society that others who were not born into that group do not receive. This is the basis of just about all inequality”
    Welcome to the real world-seriously-that will never change. Besides who decides what privileges are earned/not earned. Who decides which people have to many or not enough privileges. And what will be done with those who refuse to give up their privileges? You know, some of the worlds greatest dictators often spoke of and dealt with people who were deemed as having to many privileges. Now, Peggy Mc Intosh is no Stalin, but her list of privileges are about as vague such Stalinistic words as: enemy of the people.

    To work on those social issues we need a common purpose-blame will destroy that common purpose.

  14. @Toby

    Sweeping white privilege under the rug and not talking about it ain’t going to help no one but whites.

    I suppose you see no irony arguing, as a white man who stands to benefit greatly from such a policy, that we should ignore real, tangible, measurable white privilege.

    “In this day and age-and on this type of blog-the terms white, straight, wealthy, Europeans are meant as slights and not as mere facts. There is a criticism behind that statement.”

    Uh, nope, you got that one wrong. They are just statements of facts. Calling a white person a white person is not an insult. I think you are simply uncomfortable with examining whiteness. Or straightness. And etc.

    “Welcome to the real world-seriously-that will never change. ”

    Actually, change happens- remember the end of slavery, women getting the vote, the decriminalization of sodomy? Working for equality is a worthwhile pursuit. The only people who would argue against it are those who benefit from the status quo: an unequal society where your identity at birth affects a lot of your life chances.

    “Privileges exist…but labelling a “privilege” as a particular privilege due to a race/ethnic group takes one down a slippery, and well travelled, racist slope.”

    No again. It is not racist to examine the way white privilege harms POC. It is, however, racist to willfully ignore white privilege. Talking about race does not make one a racist. Maintaining systems of inequality that mean white people benefit and POC continue to lose is what makes one a racist.

    “Not surprisingly no-one needs or bothers to define privilege.”

    Perhaps you failed to read the post directly above yours, where I posted a very informative website about white privilege that will give you a nuanced definition and lots of useful info.

  15. @Toby

    An example of white privilege? Getting to ignore the lived experiences of those who do not have it while attempting to justify your own privilege rather than examining why it is unearned.

    “Much of what is considered privilege is wrapped around such concepts as intelligence, ability, leadership, strenght, family, money, looks, gender and religion.”

    Yep, unearned privilege. Exactly!

    What if your family is poor? What if you are born into an abusive household? What if the closest school to you lacks the resources to provide a solid education and your parents can not afford to send you anywhere else? What if you are female or a person of color and no matter your training, experience, education, or abilities you still are never given the same opportunities in school or at work? It is just too bad for those individuals?

    You mention that there are numerous causes around health care (but fail to mention what they are). Consider if an individual must work a manual job for long hours on their feet. Perhaps this individual also is raising a family. Perhaps this individual can not afford a car. Perhaps they have to rely on cheap, convenient food which is not healthy. Perhaps they have no time for exercise. Perhaps they sleep poorly due to all of the stress. Perhaps they can not afford annual visits to the doctor and dentist. Perhaps they can not afford cleaning materials for their home nor have the time to properly clean. I could add many more things, but I think it is clear. How does this not involve privilege?

    I fail to see how highlighting and exploring white (or other) privileges is racist. This sounds like the usual cry of “reverse racism” which individuals use to cling to their privilege and view themselves as the new victims of racism.

    As mollusk has stated before, I do not recall anyone asking for guilt or blame. You brought those up. Why do you keep going back to those? McIntosh’s list is not about blame or guilt. It emphasizes specific issues which the dominant group (in this case, whites) takes for granted. How is it vague that a white person can expect to find a bandaid or foundation in their approximate skin color while a person of color can not? That seems very clear and to the point.

    I am curious why you do not want to examine privilege. I know it is an emotional topic, but challenging one’s self and questioning the status quo are important for personal growth (at least in my opinion).

    @Henry

    Curious that you would state that “some of my Muslim online friends loved to chat about American slavery but they had a difficult time admitting that their cultural/religious brethern were some of the most productive slavers in the world”. I see a very similiar thing going on within your own posts.

  16. “Yep, unearned privilege. Exactly!” But when we begin classifying them as somehow wrong, immoral or unethical the baser side of human nature frequently takes over. Words, as you know, have meaning. You, for example, may understand that the above are un-earned privileges-and leave. But for others such words as un-earned, white privilege, oppression etc,etc become thougthless, judging cliches which reduce any social concerns to some sort of battlefield-the good people vs. the bad people.

    Nor should we overlook the sometimes useful component of Guilt-not mentioned by Mollusk but certainly an outcome which cannot be denied. On another blog I read the story of a white woman who [simply} agonized about what she (may have implied) in a conversation with a hispanic guy she met. This guilting/confessing can may be therapeutic but, more often than not, confession becomes a means of exploiting. Thus, I’m open to the concept of “privilege” but don’t see it as a valid way of solving the social ills of this country. Perhaps you can explain how this idea would/should work.

    “How is it vague that a white person can expect to find a bandaid or foundation in their approximate skin color while a person of color can not? That seems very clear and to the point.”

    I know that you did not mean it this way but the band-aid analogy is to good to pass up. This is what all those white privilege conferences are all about-verbal band-aids-which can be taken of and forgotten in a while. While, actually, what many people (of all races/ethnic groups) in our society need is some radical brain surgery (metaphorically).

    By the way what’s to stop anyone from developing a brown/black bandaid!

  17. Please just post under one name.

    Not intending to be privileged here but I use a computer at work and at home to post on this site-sorry for the confusion!!!!

    To get into the spirit of it all I will list somethings which some view as unearned privilege and others view as just part of their lives. In a philosophical sense they are both advantages/privileges but they cannot be simply explained away as being unearned:

    Good health
    a strong and stable marriage
    2 grown and successful children
    2 jobs-both state jobs
    2 graduate degrees
    house basically paid for
    200+ books
    Christian faith
    2 cars
    good neighbors-mixed race neighborhood
    lousy 401K-oh well
    medical care

    There are others and I’m well aware, due to the work I do, that other people do not have the same advantages that I do. Of course there are many people who have much, much more than I have.
    However, since I work with many minority cliients, if they were to tell me that I received these things because i’m white, this would be a starting point for me to discuss those things that have happened in their lives. Though I may agree with them that racial/racism has impacted them I tend to focus on their choices as well-thus I ask: “are you drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs, what kind of people do you associate with, how do you present yourself to others etc, etc. Most people respond positively to this approach because it opens up lines of communication and gives control to them rather than some mirage of white privilege.

  18. @Henry

    Thank you for explaining the two names you were using. I was tempted to misconstrue that.

    “Thus, I’m open to the concept of “privilege” but don’t see it as a valid way of solving the social ills of this country. Perhaps you can explain how this idea would/should work.”

    Gladly. Healing racial discrimination against POC is not something that POC can do. The discrimination comes from whites, and therefore the solution must be carried out by whites. By examining how white supremacy is institutionalized and accrues whites unearned benefits, white people can find ways to dismantle these structures so that we can actually reach a meritocracy- where no one’s membership in a racial group automatically gives them a head start or disadvantage. But whites are the ones that must do this, it is incumbent upon us.

  19. Henry, why is your initial reaction to a minority individual who brings up unearned privilege to push the discussion to what they have done in their lives? That seems a defensive strategy that would not make me feel at ease if I am simply going to have someone with privilege dig around for why I do not have their privilege and thus why I am to blame.

    I am concerned that you keep trying to distance yourself from unearned privilege. Why defensively bring up that others have much more than you? What did you want to accomplish with that point?

    Those things you mentioned are all unearned privileges. Just like you said, they are parts of people’s lives, but people who do not have them do not get to shrug it off like that.

    You say that you would bring up things like how individuals present themselves and the kinds of people with whom they associate. What if they can not afford nice clothes, various toiletries, and so forth? What if they were never taught how to interact in professional settings? What if the only people are them are a negative influence, but they can not afford to work or live in a different location? Yes, of course people make choices and of course they do not always make the socially approved of choices. However, the social structures in place also greatly affect what choices are available to them. I am not sure how simply shaking your finger at someone over a bad choice they made benefits anyone. People do need to take responsibility, but blaming someone who has not had the same opportunities is not a great solution.

  20. Henry, why is your initial reaction to a minority individual who brings up unearned privilege to push the discussion to what they have done in their lives? That seems a defensive strategy that would not make me feel at ease if I am simply going to have someone with privilege dig around for why I do not have their privilege and thus why I am to blame.

    That’s because all of us have to take some responsibility of what we do with our lives. It matters not if your white or not. Do I have a good marriage or two jobs because I’m white? of course not…to think otherwise is truly racist. One of my former privileged white friends has ruined his marriage because of his behaviors.

    I am concerned that you keep trying to distance yourself from unearned privilege. Why defensively bring up that others have much more than you? What did you want to accomplish with that point?
    Why, because it’s the truth. Focusing on who has more and how angry it makes one, does little but cause anger, depression and crime. That’s why this concept of “white privilege” does little to solve the ills of society. Rather than working together this philosophy provides an endless supply of blame.

    You say that you would bring up things like how individuals present themselves and the kinds of people with whom they associate. What if they can not afford nice clothes, various toiletries, and so forth? What if they were never taught how to interact in professional settings? What if the only people are them are a negative influence, but they can not afford to work or live in a different location?……………..All very important nor do I “wag fingers’ at anyone for not having the above. I’m afraid that year after year many people are being left behind because they don’t have the above skills. Since I have worked with developmentaly disabled children, mentally disturbed people and others stressing individual responsibility has worked pretty well.

    Merry Christmas to you and to all!!!

  21. @Henry
    It’s a little confusing to read your last post, because there is no demarcation to distinguish quotes you are responding to, and your own words. Using quotation marks, italicization, or blockquotes to distinguish quotes from others would help readers understand you better.

    Anyways…

    “Why, because it’s the truth. Focusing on who has more and how angry it makes one, does little but cause anger, depression and crime. That’s why this concept of “white privilege” does little to solve the ills of society. Rather than working together this philosophy provides an endless supply of blame.”

    You’ve said things to this effect several times… that discussing and acknowledging and working to end white privilege would lead to crime and violence. Either you are making this up, or you have seen research that I have not seen. If you have seen this research, please provide a link so that we can all be better informed. Otherwise, please stop making this claim.

    White people acknowledging white privilege is the first and most necessary step before whites and POC can work together. Without that acknowledgment of the rather obvious, and the commitment to work to end it, POC have no reason to trust that white people are sincere when they claim to want to work to end racism. They can reasonably conclude that such white people have no true intention to effect social change, and instead just want to polish their non-racist credentials while continuing to enjoy the effects of racism.

    “That’s because all of us have to take some responsibility of what we do with our lives. It matters not if your white or not. Do I have a good marriage or two jobs because I’m white? of course not…to think otherwise is truly racist.”

    Anti-racists see this claim a lot: that by suggesting whites have privilege, somehow it’s the anti-racists who are racist. Because we see this tactic often, it has lost any efficacy it may once have had.

    No one, no one on this blog and no anti-racist, has ever suggested that POC shouldn’t take responsibility for their lives and their choices. To insinuate that I have suggested that is to deliberately misinterpret everything I have said in this discussion up to this point.

    We are talking about white people’s responsibilities on this post. Why are white people so concerned with whether POC take responsibility for their choices or not? That isn’t white people’s business. What is our business is to make sure our own house is in order. While vociferously arguing that white people shouldn’t take responsibility for our actions regarding white privilege (because crime and violence will erupt!), suddenly you show concern with telling POC how to get their houses in order. No. That does not fly.

  22. Henry,

    If I understand you correctly, you recognize inequalities of the past, but see no point in focusing on them. You also see no point in addressing the advantages of having white skin in current society, out of a combination of A – Fear of reprisals against whites for sins of the past and B – a denial that white skin has anything do with your social position, or anyone’s.

    Someone above brought up Appalachia as an example of how privilege is not related to skin-color. You are aware that despite the poverty, racism is rampant in that part of the country, which actually provides magnificent proof that white prvilege in in full-effect! Those may be very poor whites, but they still think of themselves as superior to black people! If u think it’s tough being a poor white in WV, try being a poor black in the same area.

    Ever hear someone refer to a black person as ‘white on the inside’ – typically better-educated and employed black people? It’s a wonderful encapsulation of the fact that when we think of these abstract positive qualities..
    “Good health
    a strong and stable marriage
    2 grown and successful children
    2 jobs-both state jobs
    2 graduate degrees
    house basically paid for
    200+ books
    Christian faith
    2 cars
    good neighbors-mixed race neighborhood
    lousy 401K-oh well
    medical care”

    ..These are qualities that we think of as inherently white! White privilege surrounds you to an extent that you can’t even see it.

    I am white, and I am aware that I have benefitted from it through my whole life.
    Is white privilege directly responsible for who I am and how I live – No.

    However,
    -would that cop have let me go when I was 21 if I had been a drunk black kid?
    -would the University I ended up at have acquiesced to the same transfer credit requests?
    -would I have been hired from a temp to full-timer at my first corp job?

    MAYBE, I am pretty awesome. But it’s important to be humble, and aware that the color of your skin, by Default, eases doors and options that are more difficult for others. Not necessarily from a legal/structural standpoint, but in one-on-one human interactions being white is a huge advantage.

    I don’t know how to fix the problem, but I’m damn well determined to not further it. And if I had kids, I would want them taught the complex fullness of the truth of our history so they could understand and help change course as well. I agree that our ancestors needn’t be painted as monsters, but they needn’t be Lionized as heroes and martyrs either.

  23. Mollusk,

    Question: I agree that history should reflect the truth of the past, particularly as it is taught to adults. However, thinking about the way Thanksgiving is taught to children; except that it’s not factuallly corrrect, is it really so bad? It’s not like we’re glorifiying the slaughter of Natives, we are whitewashing over the Horror of those times and creating a nice parable about sharing and togetherness.
    As far as I remember Thanksgiving was taught to me as a time to celebrate the friendship between ‘Indians’ and Pilgrims, with an emphasis on the ways the Natives shared with the Pilgrims to help them survive. It may not have been true in the big picture, but as a small child it put an image of reverence for Native Americans in my head, and spoke a basic message about sharing and giving.
    For a six year old this may be a more productive message than one about how our great-great…grandfathers were mass murdering, racist, greedy, godawful human beings.
    Sometimes kids need to learn what should be before thay learn what really is…

    PS – I’m not giving a full-throated defense of the status quo, it’s just a thought..

  24. Teaching the mythological version of Thanksgiving to children, as though it is historical fact, is a pretty clear example of how racism is institutionalized.

    We know this is historically inaccurate, yet we dissimulate to children and tell them it’s true.

    Native kids are told by their communities what the truth is, and seeing the white lies about it is very hurtful to indian children. While for the white kids it might be a nice fairytale about sharing and getting along, for indian kids it is a lesson in how whites whitewash their history and erase their stories.

    I can’t imagine a scenario were we continue teaching the debunked white-centric version and are still able to respect the history and equality of indians. What would that look like?

  25. I think we can find other ways of teaching children about sharing without twisting history into some happy disney story.

    I do not have children, but I have often wondered why we often treat children as if they are idiots who can not handle the truth. Would it really be so terrible to tell them about European treatment of Native peoples? What are we concerned about? I am not sure how lying to them is so much better.

    It goes back to who’s history? Which children are we telling which version of history?

    Maybe teaching children early on about other histories will help them embrace others (and other perspectives) and not view whites as the ‘norm’ or superior or other harmful (to everyone) labels.

  26. Thanks everyone for the rousing discussion! I appreciate that commenters remained respectful of each other, even when disagreeing. Anyone who hasn’t posted on other threads yet, please feel welcome to contribute to more conversations in the future.

    This thread is officially closed!

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