by Zoe Samudzi
We are nearing the Thanksgiving (or Thanks-taking or National Day of Mourning) holidays, perhaps the most beloved holiday of the season. It isn’t beloved simply because it provides us an excuse to be gluttonous, though home cooking is my sole reason for observation. Thanksgiving is America’s favorite holiday because it is the celebration of one of white supremacy’s most central mythologies: it is the observation of a holiday that normalizes the ongoing process of settler colonial genocide of indigenous people and the theft of their land that was necessary for the founding of the United States. Through the watering down of Thanksgiving from an important historical moment to a late afternoon meal we share with loved ones and the hand turkey and native headdress crafts our younger cousins bring back from elementary school, we continue to reimagine and normalize this country’s legacy of violence.
White supremacy and the exploitation of racialized fears, ones central to desires for domination, have always been a driving force for the crafting of national identity. The narratives of fear of the “savage Indian” and entitlement to land are central to the political-cultural framework of this country, and they are simultaneously practiced yet unacknowledged and invisibilized because of our collective cultural amnesia around and denial about this country’s origins.
These amnesias and refusals to recognize were made glaringly apparent with the election of President-Elect Donald Trump. Despite clear warnings from marginalized communities about the dangers that Trump presented and the very real potential for his election and the backlash that consistently follows periods of rights being expanded to minorities, there was still shock and handwringing after his election. Rather than understanding the United States as a white nationalist state project, there has been a reduction of white nationalism to so-called “extremists”: a misdescription of neo-Nazism as “the alt-right.” Despite fearing the coming administration, many of the same people who had engaged in gaslighting people of color throughout the election cycle are now normalizing the enthusiastic Fourth Reichism of so many of Trump’s supporters, and even Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon.
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These conflicting and complementary ignorances will come to a head over Thanksgiving dinners when folks return home and may be forced into proximity and conversation with conservative, misogynistic, queer and trans-antagonistic, ableist, and potentially Trump-supporting/voting relatives and family friends. While many of our non-white families may not have outright voted for Trump, we may still be in a position where we are forced to defend our humanities as we discuss his incoming administration’s proposed politics. We may be coaxed into conversation where we have to explain that his mimicry of a disabled journalist was nowhere near a funny joke; or become embroiled in conflict about whether or not Pence’s conversion therapy is something that “makes sense” given their views on homosexuality; or argue the real life rape culture-related consequences of Trump’s “grab them by the p*ssy” comment as they make jokes about their relationships with or treatments of women.
We walk this tightrope of difficult conversation all while still potentially remaining closeted, fearing alienation and mockery, dealing with our own mental and emotional and physical health issues, or potentially returning to a hostile familial space with a history of abuse or mistreatment. Holidays are trying enough without fraught family encounters or returning to our hometowns or family homes in Conservativelandias across the country.
Some white people may be having similar conversations. But while we are negotiating our multiply marginalized, racialized humanities (and while indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock are being teargassed and blasted with water cannons), they are silently choking down dry green bean casserole and salt and pepper-seasoned turkey and struggling to muster the courage to tell Uncle Jim, Aunt Sally, and their mother that “illegals” aren’t stealing anyone’s jobs, Black Lives Matter isn’t a terrorist organization, and “economic anxieties” are not the sole reason that Trump had so much support. And of course, they will take to social media, which will be filled with other Good White People™ with non-racist sensibilities expressing incredulity at how “ignorant” their family members are. This silent compliance, of course, reveals liberal investment in white supremacy and the fear and refusal of their divestment from whiteness. Anti-racism becomes as performative as public declarations of allyship or safety-pin-wearing, as opposed to the actual labor of engaging white ignorance.
I have some thoughts for marginalized folks, particularly people of color, about getting through the Thanksgiving holidays in Trump’s America:
- Challenge your family, but be firm about your boundaries. While it is important to acknowledge the ways in which all people of color are marginalized in various ways within white supremacy, it is never your responsibility to martyr and deplete yourself by performing the emotional labor of holding space for or entertaining every idea or every person. Yes, it is, for example, critical to understand how your male relatives of color are harmed by impossible-to-attain standards of masculinity. No, you are not required to sit through their arguments about how Trump’s comments about sexual violence were simply a “misunderstanding” or that your anger is “blown out of proportion” as they attempt to defend their own behavior or humor.
- Remember that you are not ever required to engage in conversation. There is a quote that says you don’t have to attend every argument or fight that you are invited to, and that is particularly true where arguments about the legitimacy of your identity or your humanity are concerned. You know your family well enough to understand which conversations are completely fruitless, which are simply uncomfortable but not violent, and which may result in a positive or improved sense of understanding. Do not feel obligated to jump into conversations with unrepentant or antagonist or even abusive bigots, transphobes, homophobes, and misogynists in the name of defending the politics you hold dear. Sometimes, often, it is not worth it.
- Fears are sometimes less burdensome if you are able to work through them together. A lot of our poor and working class and even tenuously middle class families are concerned about the coming policies that are unfriendly to federal assistance programs that family members may rely on. Trump’s administration has discussed cutting Medicaid and Social Security, and the holidays may be an important opportunity to work through plans about medical care together. Additionally, if there is a queer or trans kid in your family, see how you can offer them support if it is possible. Many of us are not so far from the age where that identity was difficult and alienating to work through, and you may be the social support and potential link to resources that they need.
- Family is important, but your mental-emotional well-being and safety are more so. Sometimes we go home because of something other than self-motivated desire and enthusiasm. Home can be a toxic space, particularly more so when spaces are mired in difficult politics. Ensure you create opportunities for yourself to practice self-care in whatever ways that looks like for you.
- And on that note, you don’t have to go home. And you should not guilt yourself if you decide not to.
The holiday season is difficult, even more so in this political climate. Take care of yourself.
Zoe is an doctoral student in Sociology living in Oakland. She studies whiteness and structural violence as they both drive poor health outcomes in ethnic and gender minority communities.