A Thanksgiving Truth Telling Challenge


For me, Thanksgiving has always been a day of family, food, and games in front of the fire. When I was younger, the holiday included colorful tales of the Pilgrim’s brave Atlantic crossing, brutal first winter, and harmonious celebratory feast with ‘The Indians.’ No one challenged the peaceful narrative in my segregated, comfortable, white world because along with the turkey and mashed potatoes another tradition was being upheld: the white tradition of segregation, comfort, and avoidance of truth telling.

Tday dinner

Somewhere along the way, I suppose, the truth had gotten lost. And long before that, the truth tellers had been silenced. When my own children were young, I carried on the tradition, creating for them a white world of comfort, which included avoiding truth tellers — simply by remaining segregated in a white world where not seeking alternative perspectives was the norm. One result was the continuation of an annual gathering marked by fanciful tales of Pilgrim hardiness and overall awesomeness. 

pilgirm napkinds

The more I learned about what really went down in the decades following white Europeans’ invasion of this continent, however, the more conflicted I felt as I complied through the tradition of polite conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Feelings of grief and horror at the destruction of native nations would bubble up. The fear that broaching the topic would land me in the doghouse amplified those feelings. This is how oppression works. Silence and avoidance keep us all in our place.


Finally, I broke the silence. And guess what? My family still loves me. Even better, we're learning to have couragous conversations about all kinds of things. Ironically, the more America denies its history of racism and oppression, the more racist and oppressive we become. It’s a vicious cycle begging for interruption through truth telling. And what better time to do it than at a family forum such as the Thanksgiving dinner table? So, are you up for the challenge? In the name of breaking the white tradition of segregation, comfort, and avoidance, are you willing to move beyond polite conversation this Thanksgiving?

courage as love

Quick Tip: Don't be a jerk. Set a loving and inclusive tone. I learned this the hard way.

quick tip

Don’t shame people for ignorance. We’re all where we are and everyone of us has lots of room to grow.

Do create a sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’ Let’s learn together about what it is we might not know we don't know.


tgving time to genocide

Below are three ideas to spark a courageous conversation about the implications of America’s Thanksgiving holiday.

Language Choice ~ Who refers to the Pilgrims as settlers? Who refers to the Pilgrims as invaders and terrorists? Which term has historically gotten more airtime and why? Where are various family members in their awareness of these differing perspectives? Where have they learned what they know?

The Silenced Perspective ~ Explore how Indigenous People think and feel about Thanksgiving by reading these or other resources created by Native Americans.

Indian Country Today Media Network – 6 Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know

United American Indians of New England – Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning

Who in your family has/has not heard this perspective before? Why is that? Why do you think schools continue to avoid teaching the Native American perspective? Who does it serve to not share these perspectives?

Can We Talk? ~ If you can’t move beyond the idea of the eye rolling and shunning you anticipate, ask your family this simple question: How open-minded do you think we are as a family? Then listen. Ask if you can share something that’s been on your mind. Then listen. What is the worst that could happen? In my experience, family may resist at first, and different family members will respond differently. The goal isn’t to change people’s belief systems as much as to build a tolerance for learning and discussing multiple narratives. A great place to start is to share what YOU are learning and thinking about and being open to listening to other family members’ views. Learning to pursue multiple perspectives begins at home.

As for me, this Thanksgiving I’ll be thanking my family for coming along with me on my waking up journey. Any one of us could have been the first to open our minds and hearts to the damage done to us by white segregation, comfort, and avoidance of truth telling. I can only hope I would have loved them along the rocky path as steadfastly as they have loved me.