A Food for Thought Thanksgiving Weekend Side Dish

There is a popular and convenient explanation for the endurance of white supremacy that argues it’s because whites are ignorant of racial injustices in the past or the present. Which, up to a point, rings true.

Most whites are ignorant of all manner of massacres, lynchings and assassinations, let alone the countless other aggressions required to enforce the race/gender/economic hierarchy for more than 500 years. So that is one factor. Noting, however, for the record, that almost all of the ignorance is of the willful kind. The result, that is, of leaving out the bad stuff on purpose.

What’s more impactful, however, is what happens when the engineered obliviousness doesn’t work properly and whites somehow do have access to information. This is where we can learn a lot about the resilience of the white supremacy way of thinking. Current resistance to the 1619 Project is a good example of how it works.

So are two recent columns from the Wall Street Journal devoted to defending the fairytale version of Thanksgiving. The first, Censoring the Pilgrims, from the Editorial Board appeared on Monday November 22, 2021. It was headlined, The left wants to cancel the WSJ’s annual Thanksgiving editorials.

It said in part,

No doubt it was only a matter of time. The progressives have come for our annual Thanksgiving editorials. They won’t succeed, but we thought we’d share the tale with readers for an insight into the politicization of everything, even Thanksgiving.

Since 1961 we’ve run a pair of editorials written by our former editor Vermont Royster. The first is a historical account about the Pilgrims in 1620 as related by William Bradford, a governor of Plymouth Colony. The second is a contemporary contrast from the mid-20th century about the progress a prosperous America has made that we can all be thankful for.

But we live in a new era when the left sees nearly everything through the reductive lens of identity politics. It sees much of American history as a racist project that should be erased. This is the motivation of a petition campaign to censor the Pilgrim editorial.

The effort comes via Change.org, a website that calls itself “the world’s platform for change.” It mobilizes campaigns to promote progressive causes. The petition driver is Randy Kritkausky, an author who writes about Native Americans.

…the petition makes a historical point, which is fair enough, but then wraps it in the grievances of contemporary politics to claim the editorial is racist. Somehow the Pilgrims and their chronicler share responsibility for genocide. The point of the statement and petition isn’t to promote debate but to shut it down.

We don’t mind giving critics a chance to make their case, but we won’t bend to political demands for censorship. We will run the editorials as usual this week.

Notice how any deviation from the Thanksgiving fairytale is attributed to the “left.” And the trendy use of the word cancel in the headline too. And how “identity” politics is “reductive.” And the accusation of interfering with free speech. And how they proclaim their racial innocence and then proclaim it some more. As the white people love to do. Observe the reaffirmation that the European way is the very essence of civilization. See how they kinda sorta concede the point made by the petition they reference but then dismiss it nevertheless in a blur of fog and diversion.

Apparently worried that readers might not get the point from the Monday editorial, the Journal went at it again the next day. In an orgy of fearmongering reminiscent of Bill O’Reilly’s annual rants on Fox News about the War on Christmas, on Tuesday November 23, 2021, the WSJ ran a second commentary.

This one, by Melanie Kirkpatrick, was headlined, “Don’t Let Ideologues Steal Thanksgiving—For the left, it’s become an occasion to air grievances ranging from ‘colonialism’ to ‘carbon footprints.’

It was mostly more of the same. Kirkpatrick however did take the erasure of Indigenous people and culture to a whole new level, claiming that, “Thanksgiving is Americans’ oldest tradition, celebrated by almost every native-born citizen as well as by newcomers, for whom it is a rite of passage into the national family.” Revealing the ability of the white way of thinking to twist like a pretzel, she goes on to concede, “At the same time, the central aspect of the day—giving thanks—can be tricky for Native Americans.”

Head hurt.

If you pay attention to these things as I do you notice that reaffirming the dominant mythology about Thanksgiving is more widespread than you might think. In the small California Central Coast town of Paso Robles there is a right-wing weekly newspaper called the Paso Robles Press. They recently featured a piece by Connie Pillsbury, one of their regular columnists, Opinion: Good and Honorable, Lawful and Urgent: The Pilgrims.

Mostly her point was to brag about how she is a ninth-generation direct descendant of the “pilgrims” who arrived on the Mayflower. (How she did the arithmetic on that is unclear.)

For whatever reason, Pillsbury included a bizarre and convoluted history of the Puritans. The intention, I guess, was to stay aligned with the claim that they were persecuted. And of course, brave and all that too.

What jumped out at me however is embodied in the letter to the editor I submitted below. Which the Paso Robles Press did not print.

To the editor:

Connie Pillsbury’s column about her ancestry is a valuable historical document, although perhaps in a different way than she intended. It reveals how the white supremacist mindset of the settler colonialists has been passed along for nine generations since the arrival of the Mayflower to the present.

The biggest tell comes in her lament that a group of white people she apparently thinks are being persecuted now have nowhere to go. “Since distant shores are all inhabited and occupied our question is, what then will be our ‘Mayflower?’”

Is Ms. Pillsbury blissfully unaware that when the Mayflower arrived, these shores too were already inhabited and occupied. Maybe so.

A just published study in Science magazine summarized the outcome as follows:

Effects of land dispossession and forced migration on Indigenous peoples in North America

Statistical analysis shows that aggregate land reduction was near total, with a 98.9% reduction in cumulative coextensive lands and a 93.9% reduction in noncoextensive lands. Further, 42.1% of tribes from the historical period have no federally- or state-recognized present-day tribal land base. Of the tribes that still have a land base, their present-day lands are an average of 2.6% the size of their estimated historical area.

Maybe this isn’t a side dish at all. Maybe this pushback on the emerging truth about Thanksgiving and settler colonialism is the main dish. A turkey. Meaning no disrespect to turkeys.

Should you be so inclined, here’s the link to the petition addressed to the Wall Street Journal.

Frank Joyce is a lifelong Detroit based activist and writer. He is a former Communications Director of the UAW. He and Karin Aguilar-San Juan co-edited, The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Anti-War Movement.  

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