This week people all over the US prepared for Thanksgiving. Just like every other year, magazines and blogs offered new twists on favorite recipes of old and tips for flawless table-top arrangement. At the supermarket, I saw folks buying ingredients to cook dishes they eat only once a year.
Unlike every other year, shoppers were wearing masks and planning to gather in smaller groups. Some folks and their family began isolating two weeks early so they can spend the holiday together and safely. My household usually opts for a Friendsgiving with a ridiculous number of humans and way too much food. This year, we’re keeping to ourselves per the CDC pleadings and planning for a smaller (but no less exuberant) affair.
Part of holiday preparation in my household includes voluminous decorating. There are colored lights, construction paper fall leaves, and artful turkeys everywhere! One thing you won’t find amongst the harvest imagery is any reference to pilgrims. As woefully under-informed as I feel about Native American history, I am at the very least aware that the first thanksgiving I learned about in school is a complete fabrication.
My household and I are working to de-colonize our holiday experience. Last year we read a native land acknowledgement before eating our bountiful feast. This year we are learning the real story of the first thanksgiving. Instead of watching classic Turkey Day movies of years prior, I am watching documentaries about Native American culture (past and present).
There is so much about the pre-colonized humans who lived in this country that has been deliberately made invisible. I have had a surface-level understanding for as long as I can remember about the US government’s oppression and abuse of native people, but it is only now that I am digging into the history that I see just how deep that rabbit hole goes and how horrifying the reality is.
I have idolized first nations folks for most of my life, putting them on a pedestal of superior natural survival skills and unsurpassed understanding of living in harmony with nature. I see now that what I thought was admiration was actually objectification. I saw native folks as important artifacts, like exhibits in a museum, instead of human beings who live, suffer, and thrive all around us in present day. Preparing for a better future includes bringing those people, their heritage, and their contributions to modern American society into the light of public recognition.
Planning for the future has been especially difficult in 2020. The pandemic has put many plans on hold for an indeterminate amount of time. It has changed the global economy in some irreversible ways and completely redefined the workplace. It has reshaped human social interaction and is sure to have a myriad of lasting consequences we cannot yet fathom.
When I consider how I should prepare for the society of the future, I see a continuum of possibilities between two distinct (and equally achievable) outcomes. One future where we continue as we currently do, governments handling one climate or social disaster at a time, one after the other in increasing frequency, citizens adjusting daily life to the new normal of every passing calamity. On the other end, a future where humanity has reconciled with our history of supremacy, grown out of it, and collaboratively crafted a long-term vision for prosperity and inclusion for everyone.
It is definitely possible for humanity to get our collective shit together, and awareness does seem to be growing around the world. But I wonder: when enough of us finally figure it out will it be too late. The last couple years before I got divorced, I tried very hard to convince my then-husband to work with me on resolving the issues in our relationship. It was not until I was done trying and had moved out that he finally said he was ready to participate. But then it was too late.
I don’t know how to prepare for the future. I am working diligently to dismantle the toxic narratives I absorbed during my upbringing in contemporary society. I am doing all I can to replace the racist and exclusionary systems society currently runs on so we can all have a future. But it might not work. And I feel like I need to prepare for that possibility.
A wise and thoughtful teacher of mine said this week: “Maybe this younger generation can succeed in writing new narratives and building new systems because they are not encumbered by the guilt of having established all these institutions.” I hope she’s right. And I feel like I need to prepare for that possibility too.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.