For many people, it may seem odd that I would feel the need to write in defense of Thanksgiving. After all, this holiday commemorates the survival of our pioneering forefathers, who came from Europe to North America and weathered harsh weather and hunger, thanks in no small part to the kind help of primitive but noble Native Americans. We all learned in elementary school that we set aside one day as a nation to give thanks for this and other blessings.
Of course, this is a whitewashed, highly romanticized re-telling of American history. The truth is that Europeans came to North America, stole land, pushed out, murdered, and raped native peoples. They brought with them deadly diseases and slaves they stole from Africa. Some came seeking freedom from religious persecution. Others came for economic reasons. Many lacked political and economic power in Europe and sought to make a name for themselves in the New World.
These are the very ideals that many in our nation oppose today, all in the name of being “Good Americans.” In the political arena, we see many major presidential candidates opposing plans to allow refugees to settle in the United States. At times, their opposition approaches the level of hate speech. Ironically, many of these refugees are escaping political and religious violence and repression, just like we celebrate European pioneers for doing. Another sad irony: many fear that the refugees will take advantage of our kindness, steal our land, force their religion on us, and overthrow our culture, all with the aid of violence. Sound familiar? (If not, you should lodge a complain against whatever school was responsible for teaching you American history.)
Of course, thanks to everyone having HD cameras and the Internet in their pockets, we’re all much more aware of another American injustice: police brutality. Week after week, we’re forced to watch another new video of police officers overstepping their constitutional bounds and abusing a civilian – usually a young, minority civilian. We’re also forced to deal with floods of ignorant comments from the mouths of trolls and elected officials alike who argue against the basic rights of citizenship that the victims should have experienced.
It seems strange to me to pause and give thanks for this. We’ve been a messed up nation through-and-through from the beginning. We were born in blood, built on a foundation or racism, exploitation, and greed, and we seem quite determined to stick to our roots for as long as we can. Honestly, I don’t naturally want to participate in any celebration where we give thanks for that. Without a doubt, Black Twitter and all of social media will be filled this week with memes, posts, and status updates decrying the evil that is Thanksgiving. I will see them, I will agree with them, and, still, I will unashamedly celebrate Thanksgiving.
Here’s what I’ve grown to understand: the facts are that our national Thanksgiving narrative celebrates evil, but the truth is that God used that evil to do a lot of good. God used the evil of colonialism and slavery to bring me into existence, to bring ancestors from different nations and contentments together to create me. God used the horrors of slavery to bring glory to his name through the triumph of the oppressed. He used their pain to birth new sounds – from Negro spirituals to gospel to Christian rap – that preach the liberating good news of Jesus Christ to billions worldwide. Each year, God takes this day that was intended to celebrate exploitation and uses it to turn our hearts in gratitude back towards him.
On Thanksgiving Day, I could be consumed with thoughts of exploitative European settlers and hateful colonist, but instead, I choose to think of Joseph from the Bible. He, too, was a slave, sold by his brothers. He, like far too many of our young black men, was falsely accused of a crime and unjustly detained and imprisoned. Yet, in all of this, God was glorified through Joseph’s triumph over oppression. When Joseph finally reconnected with his brothers, he responded not with vengeance, but with gratitude. He told his brothers, “what you meant for evil, God used for good.”
I want to encourage everyone, but especially my brothers and sisters of color, to be grateful. Yes, we’re experiencing a lot of pain as our nation’s still festering core of hatred is being unmasked yet again. However, let’s not let the sting of evil distract us from the goodness of God. What Satan meant for evil, God has turned – and continues to turn – for good. That’s why I choose to celebrate Thanksgiving. Pass the cranberry sauce.