It felt important because I received three questions all related to the upcoming holiday:
- How do you interrupt the Thanksgiving holiday?
- How do you prepare for conversations with white family members? For example, how do you handle situations where people say “let’s agree to disagree” to shut things down?
- How do you relate to “turkey day” as a vegan?
Though my responses are incomplete and though this year is particularly asking for disruption (in the midst of a coronavirus surge), my hope is that these responses call us to courage and curiosity. How could we better align with commitments to justice during this holiday time?
As someone who enters this conversation closer to the “mythical norm” (and the need always to work against what’s made normative around white cis financially secure identity), I continue sitting with this question of how better to align with my commitments. And I hope that these Q&A responses offer support for you, too, as we each (and white people particularly) are asked to disrupt the ongoing harms of Thanksgiving.
1. How do you interrupt the Thanksgiving holiday?
This year I’ve noticed that I’m reluctant even to say the word “Thanksgiving,” wanting instead to name that it feels wrong to be celebrating a mythical story that needs instead to be unlearned, rewritten, and reckoned with. So, I appreciate this question for naming interruption as an assumed stance toward Thanksgiving: a day rooted in nationalist lies, capitalist excess, and oppression: a mix of reinforcements for settler colonialism and white supremacy.
When I think about interrupting harm (and there are a lot of harms that happen through and on this day), I think about the three modes of build, block, and be that Buddhist Peace Fellowship teaches.
One effort toward blocking the continued harms of Thanksgiving is to support the Land Back Campaign with the NDN Collective: a movement for dismantling white supremacy and systems of oppression at the roots, including by “putting Indigenous Lands back in Indigenous hands.”
One effort toward building is to work with this “Racial Justice Guide to Thanksgiving for Educators and Families”: using historical resources, contemporary perspectives, study guides, and lesson plans to learn and unlearn along with others.
One effort toward being is to review “The Stories We Tell: Land Acknowledgements and Indigenous Sovereignty” and to do the work of noticing stories (and emotions attached to or arising from those stories). What stories are you telling about where you’re rooted? And what more needs to be acknowledged and acted on? RAIN meditation can help with recognizing, acknowledging, investigating, and non-attaching.
2. How do you prepare for conversations with white family members? For example, how do you handle situations where people say “let’s agree to disagree” to shut things down?
For me, the first thing is to resolve within myself that responding in an truthful, direct, and meaningful way will likely mean that I’m the “killjoy” or “trouble” in family gatherings. This means breaking with people-pleasing social conditioning (so much of white womanhood) and instead committing to speak up imperfectly (again, noticing and reckoning with the emotions that come up).
Second, I find it helps to have conceptual frameworks in mind and to practice responses ahead of time. Among the resources for interrupting “let’s agree to disagree” is this quote that’s widely attributed to James Baldwin, but was coined by Robert Jones, Jr. (Son of Baldwin) to explain this idea flowing through so many essays on the ideology of white supremacy—Baldwin’s and others’:
We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
Reiterating that dehumanization is something you can’t simply disagree on, Brené Brown’s research shows that people understand this implicitly (interview participants report that there’s a line between disagreement and dehumanization). Here’s a summary of this research, which includes some sample statements of “rehumanizing rhetoric,” or ways to call people in through conversation.
And this article “We Cannot Afford to ‘Agree to Disagree’” from NOW (National Organization for Women) similarly shares sample responses for intervening into “let’s agree to disagree.” Reading this article in 2020, I notice how much has changed, yet there are helpful lines, including the first comment: “There are some things that are never right.”
3. How do you relate to “turkey day” as a vegan?
Walking through my neighborhood recently, I saw a giant inflated turkey, and a flood of emotions rushed over me. This figure was cute and comical and certainly a character: another being whose personification made me wonder how we (humans, especially white Americans) share images of living turkeys alongside dead ones on kitchen tables. My stomach tied in knots, thinking about “turkey day”—a moral conflict I return to each year. (Again, I really wish we could drop the names of “Thanksgiving” and “turkey day”: reaching instead toward a day for truth-telling and acknowledging Indigenous land rights and sovereignty and learning ethical reciprocity and the honorable harvest*).
[*NOTE: I’m very influenced by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, among other sources.]
Soon after this walk, I read Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef’s article “This Is the Year to Rethink Thanksgiving”: a piece that ties dismantling the false and hurtful narratives of the holiday with changing our relationships to food. I relate to this link—the link between the critique against (problem-posing and naming injustice) and the critique for (envisioning and striving toward more just ways of being). And I’m realizing that I need both/and to express how I relate to this day: through grieving while holding hope, through feeling my stomach churn while also trying new recipes and enjoying yummy vegan food.
In the midst of this both/and, I relate to this day by sharing vegan foods that provide comfort, nourishment, and fuel. These include the following recipes, which I share with the hope that they provide alternatives to “turkey day”:
- Flourless Mushroom Gravy
- Vegan and Gluten-Free Savory Pie
- Potato and Kale Casserole
- Vegan Stuffed Dates: 4-Ingredient Decadent Dessert
- Warm Quinoa Cranberry Breakfast Cereal
Interrupting Thanksgiving: Beyond Three Responses
Certainly, I know there are many more questions as we approach the holidays in the midst of a global pandemic, climate crisis, ongoing state violence, and the need to affirm again, daily: Black Lives Matter and Native Lives Matter. My hope is that these three responses offer some reflections and resources for showing up humbly, imperfectly, but steadily: with active and actionable commitments to social, racial, and environmental justice.
Toward more learning + unlearning.
Toward betraying whiteness + becoming more fully human.
Toward dismantling injustice + striving toward the ought to be.
This post is written by Beth Godbee, Ph.D. for Heart-Head-Hands.com. If you’re interested in asking questions and receiving monthly Q&A newsletters like this, subscribe via Patreon. Subscribers receive monthly Q&A content, discounts on offerings, processing groups, coaching, and more.
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