Confronting this world, the European nations sprawl, ostentatiously opulent. This European opulence is literally scandalous, for it has been founded on slavery, it has been nourished with the blood of slaves and it comes directly from the soil and from the subsoil of that underdeveloped world. The well-being and the progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians, and the yellow races. We have decided not to overlook this any Jonger. When a colonialist country, embarrassed by the claims for independence made by a colony, proclaims to the nationalist leaders: “If you wish for independence, take it, and go back to the Middle Ages,” the newly independent people tend to acquiesce and to accept the challenge; in fact you may see colonialism withdrawing its capital and its technicians and setting up around the young State the apparatus of economic pressure. The apotheosis of independence is transformed into the curse of independence, and the colonial power through its immense resources of coercion condemns the young nation to regression. In plain words, the colonial power says: “Since you want independence, take it and starve.” The nationalist leaders have no other choice but to turn to their people and ask from them a gigantic effort. A regime of austerity is imposed on these starving men; a disproportionate amount of work is required from their atrophied muscles. An autarkic regime is set up and each state, with the miserable resources it has in hand, tries to find an answer to the nation’s great hunger and poverty. We see the mobilization of a people which toils to exhaustion in front of a suspicious and bloated Europe.
… the imperialist states would make a great mistake and commit an unspeakable injustice if they contented themselves with withdrawing from our soil the military cohorts, and the administrative and managerial services whose function it was to discover the wealth of the country, to extract it and to send it off to the mother countries. We are not blinded by the moral reparation of national independence; nor are we fed by it. The wealth of the imperial countries is our wealth too. On the universal plane this affirmation, you may be sure, should on no account be taken to signify that we feel ourselves affected by the creations of Western arts or techniques. For in a very concrete way Europe has stuffed herself inordinately with the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries:
Latin America, China, and Africa. From all these continents, under whose eyes Europe today raises up her tower of opulence, there has flowed out for centuries toward that same Europe diamonds and oil, silk and cotton, wood and exotic products. Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The wealth which smothers her is that which was stolen from the underdeveloped peoples. The ports of Holland, the docks of Bordeaux and Liverpool were specialized in the Negro slave trade, and owe their renown to millions of deported slaves. So when we hear the head of a European state declare with his hand on his heart that he must come to the aid of the poor underdeveloped peoples, we do not tremble with gratitude. Quite the contrary; we say to ourselves: “It’s a just reparation which will be paid to us.”
Excerpt from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth
Decolonization is always a violent phenomenon … Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a program of complete disorder. But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding. Decolonization, as we know, is a historical process: that is to say that it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content. … If we wish to describe it precisely, we might find it in the wellknown words: “The last shall be first and the first last.” Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence. That is why, if we try to describe it, all decolonization is successful.
The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things, and to make them climb at a pace (too quickly, some say) the well-known steps which characterize an organized society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of violence.
You do not turn any society, however primitive it may be, upside down with such a program if you have not decided from the very beginning, that is to say from the actual formulation of that program, to overcome all the obstacles that you will come across in so doing. The native who decides to put the program into practice, and to become its moving force, is ready for violence at all times. From birth it is clear to him that this narrow world, strewn with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence. …
During the period of decolonization, the natives’ reason is appealed to. He is offered definite values, he is told frequently that decolonization need not mean regression, and that he must put his trust in qualities which are welltried, solid, and highly esteemed. But it so happens that when the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife–or at least he makes sure it is within reach. The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him. In the colonial context the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values. In the period of decolonization, the colonized masses mock at these very values, insult them, and vomit them up. …
Now what we must never forget is that the immense majority of colonized peoples is oblivious to these problems. For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity. But this dignity has nothing to do with the dignity of the human individual: for that human individual has never heard tell of it. All that the native has seen in his country is that they can freely arrest him, beat him, starve him: and no professor of ethics, no priest has ever come to be beaten in his place, nor to share their bread with him. As far as the native is concerned, morality is very concrete; it is to silence the settler’s defiance, to break his flaunting violence–in a word, to put him out of the picture. The wellknown principle that all men are equal will be illustrated in the colonies from the moment that the native claims that he is the equal of the settler. One step more, and he is ready to fight to be more than the settler. In fact, he has already decided to eject him and to take his place; as we see it, it is a whole material and moral universe which is breaking up. …
Thus the native discovers that his life, his breath, his beating heart are the same as those of the settler. He finds out that the settler’s skin is not of any more value than a native’s skin; and it must be said that this discovery shakes the world in a very necessary manner. All the new, revolutionary assurance of the native stems from it. For if, in fact, my life is worth as much as the settler’s, his glance no longer shrivels me up nor freezes me, and his voice no longer turns me into stone. I am no longer on tenterhooks in his presence; in fact, I don’t give a damn for him. Not only does his presence no longer trouble me, but I am already preparing such efficient ambushes for him that soon there will be no way out but that of flight. …
All the Mediterranean values–the triumph of the human individual, of clarity, and of beauty–become lifeless, colorless knickknacks. All those speeches seem like collections of dead words; those values which seemed to uplift the soul are revealed as worthless, simply because they have nothing to do with the concrete conflict in which the people is engaged. Individualism is the first to disappear. The native intellectual had learnt from his masters that the individual ought to express himself fully. The colonialist bourgeoisie had hammered into the native’s mind the idea of a society of individuals where each person shuts himself up in his own subjectivity, and whose only wealth is individual thought. Now the native who has the opportunity to return to the people during the struggle for freedom will discover the falseness of this theory. The very forms of organization of the struggle will suggest to him a different vocabulary. Brother, sister, friend–these are words outlawed by the colonialist bourgeoisie, because for them my brother is my purse, my friend is part of my scheme for getting on. The native intellectual takes part, in a sort of auto-da-fé, in the destruction of all his idols: egoism, recrimination that springs from pride, and the childish stupidity of those who always want to have the last word. Such a colonized intellectual, dusted over by colonial culture, will in the same way discover the substance of village assemblies, the cohesion of people’s committees, and the extraordinary fruitfulness of local meetings and groupments. Henceforward, the interests of one will be the interests of all, for in concrete fact everyone will be discovered by the troops, everyone will be massacred–or everyone will be saved. …
What are the forces which in the colonial period open up new outlets and engender new aims for the violence of colonized peoples? In the first place there are the political parties and the intellectual or commercial elites. Now, the characteristic feature of certain political structures is that they proclaim abstract principles but refrain from issuing definite commands. The entire action of these nationalist political parties during the colonial period is action of the electoral type: a string of philosophicopolitical dissertations on the themes of the rights of peoples to self-determination, the rights of man to freedom from hunger and human dignity, and the unceasing affirmation of the principle: “One man, one vote.” The national political parties never lay stress upon the necessity of a trial of armed strength, for the good reason that their objective is not the radical overthrowing of the system. Pacifists and legalists, they are in fact partisans of order, the new order–but to the colonialist bourgeoisie they put bluntly enough the demand which to them is the main one: “Give us more power.” On the specific question of violence, the elite are ambiguous. They are violent in their words and reformist in their attitudes. When the nationalist political leaders say something, they make quite clear that they do not really think it.
This characteristic on the part of the nationalist political parties should be interpreted in the light both of the make-up of their leaders and the nature of their followings. The rank-and-file of a nationalist party is urban. The workers, primary schoolteachers, artisans, and small shopkeepers who have begun to profit–at a discount, to be sure–from the colonial setup, have special interests at heart. What this sort of following demands is the betterment of their particular lot: increased salaries, for example. The dialogue between these political parties and colonialism is never broken off. Improvements are discussed, such as full electoral representation, the liberty of the press, and liberty of association. Reforms are debated. Thus it need not astonish anyone to notice that a large number of natives are militant members of the branches of political parties which stem from the mother country. These natives fight under an abstract watchword: “Government by the workers,” and they forget that in their country it should be nationalist watchwords which are first in the field. The native intellectual has clothed his aggressiveness in his barely veiled desire to assimilate himself to the colonial world. He has used his aggressiveness to serve his own individual interests.
Thus there is very easily brought into being a kind of class of affranchised slaves, or slaves who are individually free. What the intellectual demands is the right to multiply the emancipated, and the opportunity to organize a genuine class of emancipated citizens. On the other hand, the mass of the people have no intention of standing by and watching individuals increase their chances of success. What they demand is not the settler’s position of status, but the settler’s place. The immense majority of natives want the settler’s farm. For them, there is no question of entering into competition with the settler. They want to take his place.
The peasantry is systematically disregarded for the most part by the propaganda put out by the nationalist parties. And it is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class system, is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization are simply a question of relative strength. The exploited man sees that his liberation implies the use of all means, and that of force first and foremost. When in 1956, after the capitulation of Monsieur Guy Mollet to the settlers in Algeria, the Front de Libération Nationale, in a famous leaflet, stated that colonialism only loosens its hold when the knife is at its throat, no Algerian really found these terms too violent. The leaflet only expressed what every Algerian felt at heart: colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.
Anti-Black racism, always just beneath the surface of polite racial discourse in the U.S., has exploded in reaction to the resistance of black youth to another brutal murder by the agents of this racist, settler-colonialist state. With the resistance, the focus shifted from the brutal murder of Freddie Gray and the systematic state violence that historically has been deployed to control and contain the black population in the colonized urban zones of North America, to the forms of resistance by African Americans to the trauma of ongoing state violence.
The narrative being advanced by corporate media spokespeople gives the impression that the resistance has no rational basis. The impression being established is that this is just another manifestation of the irrationality of non-European people – in particular, Black people – and how they are prone to violence. This is the classic colonial projection employed by all white supremacist settler states, from the U.S., to South Africa and Israel.
The accompanying narrative is that any kind of resistance that does not fit the narrow definition of “non-violent” resistance is illegitimate violence and, therefore, counter-productive because – “violence doesn’t accomplish anything.” Not only does this position falsely equates resistance to oppression as being morally equivalent to the violence of the oppressor, it also attempts to erase the role of violence as being fundamental to the U.S. colonial project.
The history of colonial conquest saw the U.S. settler state shoot and murdered its’ way across the land mass of what became the U.S. in the process of stealing indigenous land to expand the racist White republic from “sea to shining sea.” And the marginalization of the role of violence certainly does not reflect the values of the Obama administration that dutifully implements the bi-partisan dictates of the U.S. strategy of full spectrum dominance that privileges military power and oppressive violence to protect and advance U.S. global supremacy. The destruction of Libya; the reinvasion of Iraq; the civil war in Syria; Obama’s continued war in Afghanistan; the pathological assault by Israel on Palestinians in Gaza and the U.S. supported attack on Yemen by the Saudi dictatorship, are just a few of the horrific consequences of this criminal doctrine.
Race and oppressive violence has always been at the center of the racist colonial project that is the U.S. It is only when the oppressed resist — when we decide, like Malcolm X said, that we must fight for our human rights — that we are counseled to be like Dr. King, including by war mongers like Barack Obama. However, resistance to oppression is a right that the oppressed claim for themselves. It does not matter if it is sanctioned by the oppressor state, because that state has no legitimacy.
No rational person exalts violence and the loss of life. But violence is structured into the everyday institutional practices of all oppressive societies. It is the deliberate de-humanization of the person in order to turn them into a ‘thing’ — a process Dr. King called “thing-afication.” It is a necessary process for the oppressor in order to more effectively control and exploit. Resistance, informed by the conscious understanding of the equal humanity of all people, reverses this process of de-humanization. Struggle and resistance are the highest expressions of the collective demand for people-centered human rights – human rights defined and in the service of the people and not governments and middle-class lawyers.
That resistance may look chaotic at this point – spontaneous resistance almost always looks like that. But since the internal logic of neoliberal capital is incapable of resolving the contradiction that it created, expect more repression and more resistance that will eventually take a higher form of organization and permanence. In the meantime, we are watching to see who aligns with us or the racist state.
The contradictions of the colonial/capitalist system in its current expression of neoliberalism have obstructed the creation of decent, humane societies in which all people are valued and have democratic and human rights. What we are witnessing in the U.S. is a confirmation that neoliberal capitalism has created what Chris Hedges called “sacrificial zones” in which large numbers of black and Latino people have been confined and written off as disposable by the system. It is in those zones that we find the escalation of repressive violence by the militarized police forces. And it is in those zones where the people are deciding to fight back and take control of their communities and lives.
These are defining times for all those who give verbal support to anti-racist struggles and transformative politics. For many of our young white comrades, people of color and even some black ones who were too young to have lived through the last period of intensified struggle in the 1960s and ‘70s and have not understood the centrality of African American resistance to the historical social struggles in the U.S., it may be a little disconcerting to see the emergence of resistance that is not dependent on and validated by white folks or anyone else.”
The repression will continue, and so will the resistance. The fact that the resistance emerged in a so-called black city provides some complications, but those are rich and welcoming because they provide an opportunity to highlight one of the defining elements that will serve as a line of demarcation in the African American community – the issue of class. We are going to see a vicious ideological assault by the black middle class, probably led by their champion – Barack Obama – over the next few days. Yet the events over the last year are making it more difficult for these middle-class forces to distort and confuse the issue of their class collaboration with the white supremacist capitalist/colonialist patriarchy. The battle lines are being drawn; the only question that people must ask themselves is which side they’ll be on.
I’ve been reading a lot in recent months about Murray Bookchin’s influence on Kurdish revolutionaries. So the other day, I picked up a copy of his book The Limits of theCity to begin exploring some of his writings. (I chose this, out of his many books, because I’m currently interested in agrarianism and urbanization, and was curious to see his take on these topics.)
Bookchin is totally on point regarding the harmful social/environmental impacts of the modern city. I appreciate his discussion of how geographic/material arrangements (specifically the modern, industrial-capitalist urban environment) shape our social structures, and how radical restructuring of our built environment must be a core part of our efforts for revolutionary social change.
However, many of his views are horribly ethnocentric — reinforcing the standard colonial “civilized/savage” dichotomy, and devaluing non-urbanized cultures.
For instance, on the very first page he states:
“Cities embody the most important traditions of civilization. Owing to the size of their marketplaces and the close living quarters they render possible, cities collect those energizing forces of social life that country life tends to dissipate over wide expanses of land and scattered populations. Seasonal renewals of nature that send hunters and food gatherers on migrations and reclothe the works of the peasant are replaced in cities by a more palpable heritage. From a cultural standpoint, the land, years ago, was regarded as fugitive, the city as permanent; the land as natural, the city as social. While this dichotomy may be greatly exaggerated, it is certainly true that the fulfillment of individuality and intellect was the historic privilege of the urban dweller or of individuals influenced by urban life. Indeed, some kind of urban community is not only the environment of humanity: it is its destiny. Only in a complete urban environment can there be complete people; only in a rational urban situation can the human spirit advance its most vital cultural and social traditions.” [emphasis added]
The “most vital cultural and social traditions”, we are told, are those of city dwellers. The people (savages) who live in the countryside are “scattered”, lack our “energizing forces of social life”, have not had the opportunity to fulfill their “individuality and intellect” and thus do not have as “palpable” of a heritage. They are in short, incomplete and undeveloped – they are not fully human. Land-based cultures have not been erased (and replaced by urbanized environments) because of imperialism and genocide — they have gone away because it is humanity’s “destiny”.
Bookchin later goes on to say (pp. 6-7):
“For all its collectivism and strong bonds of solidarity, tribal society was surprisingly parochial. Based on kinship, however fictitious its reality, the tribe rooted its affiliations in lineage ties or what I call the “blood oath” […] The city, by contrast, over a long period of development, created a more universal terrain — the realm of the citizen. Civic rights depended upon residence rather than a shared ethnic background […] In any case, it formed the arena for the emergence of a common “humanity” rather than a parochial “folk”. Here, the ‘stranger’ could first find a home and the protection of laws, and later, citizenship as one among equals, not the arbitrary treatment that characterizes the status of visitors to tribal communities. From a distance of millenia, it is hard for people to realize what a social and cultural revolution this step out of the lineage system proved to be. Aside from the sense of universiality it produced, the variety and openness to different cultural stimuli it created made the city the most powerful civilizing factor in human history. The origin of the word ‘civilization’ from ‘civitas’ is not accidental: it authentically reflects the emergence of a distinctly human culture – universal in its scope – from city life as such.”
Bookchin talks about “the tribe” as if there was only one way of living outside of the city/civilization. He speaks of a homogenous “tribal society”, rather than thousands of diverse cultures with wildly different ways of living. His mythical tribe was “parochial”, living by the so-called “blood oath” (a figment of Bookchin’s imagination). He dehumanizes those who live outside of urban areas, and negates their cultural achievements. “Civilized” city dwellers, he claims, are “distinctly human”, and the culture they have created has grown to be “universal in scope”. What he fails to mention, though, is the means through which it has attempted to make itself universal: i.e. the genocide and erasure of “uncivilized” land-based cultures; the theft/enclosure of common lands and resources; warfare and economic desperation driving people into the cities against their will.
In a bizarre reversal of reality, he paints city dwellers as peaceful, thoughtful, and just – speaking of how legal systems of “human rights” ensure that people are treated fairly and kept safe. This is in contrast to tribal folks who treat people (especially foreigners/strangers) in an “arbitrary” manner . Bookchin talks as if the political rhetoric of “equality” and “rights” are actually representative of lived reality.Without looking at historical/anthropological evidence, he blindly accepts as true the claim that people who live outside the city are a bunch of violent barbarians. However, if one looks at empirical evidence, they will find that the opposite is true: city dwellers are vastly more violent, experiencing much higher rates of inequality, rape, murder, torture, addiction than land-based, communal cultures. Xenophobia and racism are the product of the “civilized” colonizers, not of indigenous societies.
Clearly Bookchin is basing his analysis on “commonsense” beliefs held by many city-dwelling colonizers who have not taken the time to seriously research any indigenous, land-based cultures. Reading this kind of racist, ethnocentric writing makes me skeptical about the quality of the rest of his analysis …
“Colonialism is not a type of individual relations but the conquest of a national territory and the oppression of a people: that is all. It is not a certain type of human behavior or a pattern of relations between individuals. Every Frenchman in Algeria is at the present time an enemy soldier. So long as Algeria is not independent, this logical consequence must be accepted… .
The Algerian experiences French colonialism as an undifferentiated whole, not out of simple mindedness or xenophobia but because in reality every Frenchmen in Algeria maintains, with reference to the Algerian, relations that are based on force. The evocation of special cases of Frenchmen who are abnormally nice to Algerians doe snot modify the nature of relations between a foreign group that has seized the attributes or national sovereignty and the people which finds itself deprived of the exercise of power. No personal relation can contradict this fundamental datum: that the French nation through its citizens opposes the existence of the Algerian nation. ”
The claim that Europeans colonized what is now known as “Israel” in response to the Holocaust is false, just like the historical myth that claims the English colonizers came to the U.S. seeking “religious freedom”. The Zionist ideology has been around since the late 1800s, and the first large waves of European Zionist settlers had already arrived in Palestine long before the Nazis came to power. The violence in Palestine is the result of racist European colonizers displacing and killing (with U.S./British military support) large numbers of (Arab) people who they think are subhuman, enslaving the survivors, and stealing their land and resources (much as the Europeans did in the Americas and Africa).
And even if the Israeli nationalist mythology were true, and Israel actually had been created because European Jews were fleeing Nazi persecution, that still doesn’t justify what they’ve done to the people of Palestine. If I’m experiencing violence in my own home, does that make it OK for me to go next door and kill all of my neighbors and take their house to “protect myself”? Of course not. … Did religious persecution in 16th/17th century England justify the colonizers coming over here and killing millions of Native Americans and stealing their land? Of course not. … Did the persecution of Jews (and Communists, disabled folks, homosexuals, Eastern Europeans) in Nazi Germany justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the Nakba or the current slaughter in Gaza? Of course not. … It’s horrible that so many people accept Nazi violence in the 1940s as a justification for the murder of hundreds of Palestinian children in 2014.
I think what is really causing most of the Israeli violence is not a fear of Nazis or homemade rockets; it is a toxic mix of racism, nationalism, religion and capitalism. The Israeli politicians, just like those in the U.S. are mostly corrupt puppets of the wealthy capitalist class. Their motivations are primarily to dispossess, enslave and kill off as many Palestinians as possible so their corporate cronies will get rich from the stolen land resources and slave labor. As far as the combat soldiers on the ground, though, I think that their motivations are a bit more varied (like the soldiers who are employed by the US capitalist/political class) — some are there because it’s a decent-paying job, some are there because they were conscripted, some are virulent racist religious zealots who think they’re doing God’s work by murdering “barbaric” Arabs …. The same goes for the Israeli people. Like the U.S., Israel is a thoroughly racist society, where it’s socially acceptable to express joy at the sight of dead Palestinian babies. In addition to the racism which is the norm in Israel, I think there are many other factors (economic, cultural, etc.) that lead the Israeli public to support the mass murder of Palestinians. Whatever their varied motives are for supporting the mass murder of Palestinians, I think that we all need to stop accepting their justifications and find ways to work together to end it.
On February 14, 1779 Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy was killed by natives in Kealakekua Bay, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Cook was a true savage, who sailed across the world bringing murder, rape, disease, and colonialism to native peoples all over the Pacific. When he was killed, Cook was trying to kidnap the Hawaiian Aliʻi (tribal chief) Kalaniʻōpuʻu in response to an unknown person stealing a small boat. In the process, he had threatened to open fire on the islanders.
At this point, the Hawaiians decided they had enough of Cook’s bullshit. Realizing that he had been manipulating them throughout the course of his stay in Hawaii, witnessing the sexual depredations of Cook’s men, seeing how brutish and toxic European culture really was … and now being threatened with mass murder and the kidnapping of one of their tribal leaders, the Hawaiian islanders finally gave this piece of shit what he deserved: a beatdown on the beach, and a knife to the chest. This put an end to a lifetime of predatory behavior and conquest of lands in the service to the British empire.
So how about instead of celebrating a boring consumerist holiday like Valentine’s Day, we celebrate something awesome, like the death of Captain Cook … Happy Killed Captain Cook Day!
Thanksgiving to me represents a day of opportunity — the opportunity to expose a history of genocide and white-supremacist domination of Native American and African peoples. First, let’s take a look at the history of Thanksgiving:
‘[What is erroneously considered to be] the first feast was not called a “Thanksgiving” at the time; no further integrated dining occasions were scheduled; and the first, official all-Pilgrim “Thanksgiving” had to wait until 1637, when the whites of New England celebrated the massacre of the Wampanoag’s southern neighbors, the Pequots. […]
Having subdued, intimidated or made mercenaries of most of the tribes of Massachusetts, the English turned their growing force southward, toward the rich Connecticut valley, the Pequot’s sphere of influence. At the point where the Mystic River meets the sea, the combined force of English and allied Indians bypassed the Pequot fort to attack and set ablaze a town full of women, children and old people.
William Bradford, the former Governor of Plymouth and one of the chroniclers of the 1621 feast, was also on hand for the great massacre of 1637:
‘Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.’
The rest of the white folks thought so, too. ‘This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots,’ read Governor John Winthrop’s proclamation. The authentic Thanksgiving Day was born.’
That is, Thanksgiving is not only a holiday that hides or ignores the Native American holocaust, but was actually created to celebrate it. The fact that millions of people celebrate such a holiday each year is thoroughly disturbing:
‘In recent years I have refused to participate in Thanksgiving Day meals, even with friends and family who share this critical analysis and reject the national mythology around manifest destiny. In bowing out of those gatherings, I would often tell folks that I hated Thanksgiving. I realize now that “hate” is the wrong word to describe my emotional reaction to the holiday. I am afraid of Thanksgiving. More accurately, I am afraid of what Thanksgiving tells us about both the dominant culture and much of the alleged counterculture.
Here’s what I think it tells us: As a society, the United States is intellectually dishonest, politically irresponsible, and morally bankrupt. This is a society in which even progressive people routinely allow national and family traditions to trump fundamental human decency. It’s a society in which, in the privileged sectors, getting along and not causing trouble are often valued above honesty and accountability. Though it’s painful to consider, it’s possible that such a society is beyond redemption. Such a consideration becomes frightening when we recognize that all this goes on in the most affluent and militarily powerful country in the history of the world, but a country that is falling apart — an empire in decline.
Thanksgiving should teach us all to be afraid.
Although it’s well known to anyone who wants to know, let me summarize the argument against Thanksgiving: European invaders exterminated nearly the entire indigenous population to create the United States. Without that holocaust, the United States as we know it would not exist. The United States celebrates a Thanksgiving Day holiday dominated not by atonement for that horrendous crime against humanity but by a falsified account of the “encounter” between Europeans and American Indians. When confronted with this, most people in the United States (outside of indigenous communities) ignore the history or attack those who make the argument. This is intellectually dishonest, politically irresponsible, and morally bankrupt.
In left/radical circles, even though that basic critique is widely accepted, a relatively small number of people argue that we should renounce the holiday and refuse to celebrate it in any fashion. Most leftists who celebrate Thanksgiving claim that they can individually redefine the holiday in a politically progressive fashion in private, which is an illusory dodge: We don’t define holidays individually or privately — the idea of a holiday is rooted in its collective, shared meaning. When the dominant culture defines a holiday in a certain fashion, one can’t pretend to redefine it in private. To pretend we can do that also is intellectually dishonest, politically irresponsible, and morally bankrupt.
I press these points with no sense of moral superiority. For many years I didn’t give these questions a thought, and for some years after that I sat sullenly at Thanksgiving dinners, unwilling to raise my voice. For the past few years I’ve spent the day alone, which was less stressful for me personally (and, probably, less stressful for people around me) but had no political effect. This year I’ve avoided the issue by accepting a speaking invitation in Canada, taking myself out of the country on that day. But that feels like a cheap resolution, again with no political effect in the United States.
The next step for me is to seek creative ways to use the tension around this holiday for political purposes, to highlight the white-supremacist and predatory nature of the dominant culture, then and now. Is it possible to find a way to bring people together in public to contest the values of the dominant culture? How can those of us who want to reject that dominant culture meet our intellectual, political, and moral obligations? How can we act righteously without slipping into self-righteousness? What strategies create the most expansive space possible for honest engagement with others?
Along with allies in Austin, I’ve struggled with the question of how to create an alternative public event that could contribute to a more honest accounting of the American holocausts in the past (not only the indigenous genocide, but African slavery) and present (the murderous U.S. assault on the developing world, especially in the past six decades, in places such as Vietnam and Iraq).
Some have suggested an educational event, bringing in speakers to talk about those holocausts. Others have suggested a gathering focused on atonement. Should the event be more political or more spiritual? Perhaps some combination of methods and goals is possible.
However we decide to proceed, we can’t ignore the ugly ideological realities of the holiday. My fear of those realities is appropriate but facing reality need not leave us paralyzed by fear; instead it can help us understand the contours of the multiple crises — economic and ecological, political and cultural — that we face. The challenge is to channel our fear into action. I hope that next year I will find a way to take another step toward a more meaningful honoring of our intellectual, political, and moral obligations.
As we approach Thanksgiving Day, I’m eager to hear about the successful strategies of others. For such advice, I would be thankful.’
Thanksgiving Day is not a day for celebration or rejoicing. Find another day for that. Thanksgiving is a fundamentally racist and genocidal holiday that we should utilize as a chance to inform people about white supremacy and the history of the colonization of the Americas.
“I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”