It’s that time of the year when my kids come home from school with papers littered with Thanksgiving clip art. I’ve already seen my fair share of turkeys, pumpkins, and leaves. Among these are also the smiling faces of cartoon pilgrims and stereotyped Native Americans. Both the pilgrim and the Native American have their hands on a platter overflowing with vegetables and corn—demonstrating how well they all get along and share.
This is supposed to be cute and commemorative of the first Thanksgiving—when pilgrims and Native Americans came together in harmony, shared a bountiful meal, while sitting around a massive wooden table. But there’s nothing adorbs about whitewashed history.
I know. I know. Can’t we all just get along? Can’t we just let go and have fun, not over-analyzing every detail? I’ve heard the clapbacks a hundred times—similar to when people ask me what the big deal is that their child wants to dress as Pocahontas for Halloween. Why can’t we just let kids be kids?
Well, we can and we have for hundreds of years. But is it doing our kids any good?
Until we acknowledge the troublesome, deeply disturbing racist history, all we’re doing is brainwashing our children into believing that a white dude discovered America and our founding fathers were saints — instead of telling our kids that some of the revered white men owned slaves.
People can get real defensive when we discuss taking down statues of historical white guys who spent their lives taking from people of color. The response is, “We can’t change history.” Well, that’s true. We can’t. But we can certainly change the future and do what we need to now. A great option? Not honoring racists by keeping their stone-carved bodies in our parks.
Thanksgiving isn’t the only time of year when we take days off work and school to celebrate the “good old days” in American history. Can we talk about the Fourth of July?
The Fourth is considered the ultimate day of freedom. We throw up some red, white, and blue all over every surface, fire up the grill, and go swimming. There’s beer and hot dogs and sparklers. But the real deal? The first Fourth of July—and many after—celebrated the freedom of the white guy. Women were still property. People of color certainly weren’t free. And of course, even today, the Pledge of Allegiance states that there is “liberty and justice for all”—which if you’ve been watching the news for five hot seconds, you know isn’t true for everyone.
There’s no day off for Juneteenth. Do you know about this important day? My guess is, probably not. Because it’s usually not in the history textbooks. Juneteenth—which occurs on June 19th of every year—was established to honor the day slaves were notified that slavery had ended. Granted, slavery had ended two-and-a-half-years before slaves were told. And by the way, the first Decoration Day—AKA, Memorial Day—was organized by freed black people.
Some say, “Well, there are those months celebrating specific groups, such as February—Black History Month.” Great. Superficial classroom lessons about the love-and-peace-make-white-people-comfortable version of Dr. King—not the radical, killed-by-a-supremacist, King—are presented. Kids might learn tidbits about Rosa Parks or Jackie Robinson—maybe even reading a book or watching a video. But then March 1 hits, and the Black history lessons disappear.
The thing is, Black history is American history—and it should be part of everyday curriculum. Limiting it to February is not an honor. In fact, it’s insulting. My kids are black every second of every day, FYI.
The same goes for women’s history. Yes, there’s a Women’s History Month. For those who don’t know, it’s in March. But again, what do the other months focus on? If you guessed white, male history—you’re right.
And in case you missed the memo, November is Native American Heritage Month. But again, don’t let December 1st stop you from teaching your kids about who this country first belonged to. And, you know, what was done and is still being done to Native Americans.
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"November is Native American Heritage Month, when the U.S. is supposed to celebrate Natives and our contributions to the world. In recognition of the season, let’s start with 100 ways you and yours can be allies toward to the Indigenous peoples of this continent—our ancestral land: 1. Stop using the word "powwow" when you plan your office meetings. 6. Change the narrative on “Indian givers.” We aren’t the ones who reneged on agreements. 14. Share Native voices. Please and thank you. 15. Expose your children to as many Indigenous activities as you can. The more children are exposed to the truth of a people, the less they will be affected by stereotypes. 16. Don’t allow schools to dress your kid up as an Indian. Playing Indian is always racist, and my traditional regalia is not a costume. 18. Don’t correct the way people choose to identify. Native American, Indian, American Indian, Indigenous, or our tribal names—it’s our choice. 20. Use your privilege and platform to speak out regularly against the oppression of Natives. 33. Push for inclusion of Native American history in schools, especially the histories of local tribes. 35. Know how many tribes and nations are in your state and what tribes and nations are local to your specific area. Learn about them. You’re on their land. 36. Not every Native was born on (or is from) a reservation. More than 70 percent live in big cities. 47. Stop referring to early Europeans as “pilgrims” and “settlers.” They were invaders, colonizers, and terrorists. 72. Don't claim Cherokee if the Cherokee don't claim you. 75. It’s worth remembering that reservations were first established as prison camps, and Hitler was inspired by them. America doesn’t want you to know that one. 99. Stop saying “Native Americans believed…” We believe. We survived. Being a better ally is about getting to know who we are and who we are not. We are not mascots. We are not mere relics of the past. We are writers, doctors, business owners, your classmate, neighbor. We are still here.” Link to full list by Simon Moya-Smith (Oglala Lakota) in Stories. #Native #Indigenous #TeachersOfInstagram
Don’t get me wrong here. I love seeing our families come together over the Thanksgiving break, passing slices of pie around the table. It’s not the gathering that’s the issue. The problem is that many of us around the tables hardly know anything about our history besides what those written-by-white-guys-about-white-guys have taught us.
So we’ve established that there’s an issue, but what can we do about it as parents?
I think first, we have to get educated ourselves. It’s hard to teach our kids what we don’t know, right? I know it’s not really 2019 to say this—but we need to pick up some books—especially books written by people of color and women. Watch documentaries. Read articles—like those from the 1619 Project. Listen to podcasts.
Once we know better, we can do better, just as Maya Angelou has famously said. We teach our kids the facts at home—but we also advocate in their schools. Offer resources. Buy new books for the classroom and library. Ask that all history be taught year-round instead of in previously designated months and holidays. We can encourage our communities to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
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It's my favorite time of the year 🍂🍃 AND it's also the time of year when offensive and racist behavior gets excused and overlooked for the sake of tradition and "just having fun". I miss being in the classroom and having the opportunity to teach my students about how the world works and what they can do about it. Give your students and children the background knowledge, information and vocabulary they need to identify and tackle big topics! Culture is not a costume. No, Karen, you aren't honoring anyone by dressing up as a stereotype of them one day a year to collect candy and take pictures for social media. And if you've done it in the past? That's okay. It's okay to have been operating from a misinformed place and admit that you've grown and know better now. That's life. Hold your friends and family members more accountable this year.
What our kids shouldn’t be doing is making headbands out of feathers and construction paper and thinking that someone honors indigenous people. The Pilgrim and Indian Thanksgiving school plays aren’t cute. I don’t know about you, but I want to raise woke kids who aren’t afraid to call out whitewashed inaccuracies.
Talking to your kids about the violent, unethical atrocities in American history isn’t easy. It’s not pleasant. And in fact, many avoid it because it ensues guilt and a lot of discomfort. But just because something isn’t comfortable, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be brought into the light.
Enjoy your turkey, your mashed potatoes and gravy, and your pie—or whatever you choose to eat. I plan to. But for the love of all things cornucopia, teach your kids the damn truth.