By Zsana Hoskins,
Howard University News Service
Thanksgiving has a tragic history, yet many Black people across the nation still choose to celebrate it in their own way. Some reframe it as a day to spend time with family, while others shop.
In an informal poll for this article, 45 percent of Black respondents, ages 13 to 60, shared that they love celebrating Thanksgiving.
“Our culture understands the falsehoods behind the holiday, but we enjoy connecting with family and use it as an opportunity to do so,” one respondent said.
About 62 percent say they do not think about the history of Thanksgiving while celebrating.
“The true history of it is something I make sure my children are aware of, but we focus on the positive aspects of it as we gather with family,” an individual said.
“Sort of like Halloween and Christmas, each holiday has issues,” one person shared. “I choose to celebrate time with family and community instead of worrying about their origin.”
“It makes me sad,” another respondent said. “So, I try to think about the family part of Thanksgiving.”
David Silverman, author of “This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving,” told the Smithsonian that “the myth is that friendly Indians, unidentified by tribe, welcome the Pilgrims to America, teach them how to live in this new place, sit down to dinner with them and then disappear.”
According to the African American Registry, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing the Thanksgiving holiday in 1863. This was just months after he approved the Emancipation Proclamation. Thanksgiving used to be a time when slaves would frequently attempt to escape, because it was the end of the crop season. However, with the new rule, it changed into a time where newly liberated Blacks could gather. Then, Black Americans began celebrating Thanksgiving through the church.
Silverman, a professor at George Washington University, said the Thanksgiving myth attempts to overshadow the nation’s attacks against Native Americans, who had been here 12,000 years before the Pilgrims, as well as oppression against people of African descent who were captured, brought here against their will and enslaved.
“Depicting the Pilgrims as the epitome of colonial America,” Silverman said in his book, “also served to minimize the country’s long-standing history of racial oppression at a time when Jim Crow was working to return Blacks in the South to as close a state of slavery as possible, and racial segregation was becoming the norm nearly everywhere else.”
While many Black Americans do not think about how Thanksgiving came to be, some individuals do not agree with the holiday’s origins. One person shared that they do not connect with the historical aspect of the holiday.
“Thanksgiving, like Independence Day, is a holiday I must reframe every year to fit my worldview and value system as an African American. These days are not holy, but patriotic to ideals that are conflicting to me as a descendant of enslaved Africans. In short, they insult my humanity and are offensive as they reinforce the ideals of white supremacy year after year.”
Another person said: “It’s a made-up holiday to justify the exploitation of millions of indigenous peoples of this country. I’m not a fan.”
Black Americans spend their time in different ways on Thanksgiving, but most use the time to be with their loved ones. Ninety-five percent of the Black Americans surveyed said they spend time with family during the holiday, 22.5 percent said they shop and 10 percent said they spend the day grieving.
While the day has since evolved in many ways for the Black community, many still use it as a day to give thanks and be grateful for family and loved ones.
Zsana Hoskins is a reporter for HUNewsService.com
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