Yesterday was Thanksgiving, which meant millions of Americans traveled near and far to have a holiday dinner with their family. It also meant, shortly thereafter, millions of Americans reached for an antacid. If Christmas is about Christmas trees and the opening of presents, and New Year’s Eve is about parties and champagne, Thanksgiving is about gorging on enormous amounts of food.
Thanksgiving is also devoted to watching an endless amount of football — pro and college. In fact, the order of America’s Thanksgiving priorities might be food, football and, at a very distant third, giving thanks. (Any follower of these columns recently, however, knows that I’m thankful just to be alive.)
Today, the day after Thanksgiving, is also the biggest shopping day of the year. In New Mexico and New Jersey it’s actually a state holiday. The day is known as Black Friday, which doesn’t sound terribly festive. Actually it sounds like the day after the Great Depression in 1929. Then again, standing in line in some crowded, noisy mall buying presents could lead to a great depression. (I believe the term Black Friday means when retail stores go from being in the red to being in the black.)
While with Thanksgiving there’s family, friends and great food (indigestion notwithstanding) the holiday is not so wonderful for all living creatures. Naturally, I’m speaking on behalf of turkeys that are, as far as I know, without a literary voice in their defense. If you want to see a visual reminder of the turkey’s plight go to YouTube and type in “Sarah Palin Turkey Slaughter.”
The video on YouTube took place in 2008. “Sarah Barracuda” was being interviewed on Alaskan TV, rambling on about what a festive Thanksgiving she and her family were going to have. Meanwhile (spoiler alert) just a few yards away, live turkeys were having their necks chopped off. Even the slaughterhouse employee doing the chopping couldn’t believe Sarah was so clueless as she continued to pontificate about who’s making the stuffing and who’s bringing the pies.
Then, a mere seven months after the slaughterhouse fiasco, Sarah blithely announced that she was resigning from the governor’s office, with almost two years left in her term. Apparently, she had gotten bored with being governor (and wanted to make a pile of dough with her book). You betcha.
In addition to turkeys, there are many humans who might not have warm and fuzzy feelings about Thanksgiving. I’m referring to Native Americans. In hindsight, one could say the whole Thanksgiving thing didn’t work out too well for them. Actually it could fall under the category of “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Instead of observing Thanksgiving as a day of celebration, AIM, the American Indian Movement, views it as a “day of mourning.” And with good reason. It’s been conservatively estimated that since that very first Thanksgiving in 1621, 10 million Native Americans were killed by Europeans and their descendants. Whoops.
Changing the subject, but only slightly, in 1973 Marlon Brando won the “Best Actor” Academy Award for his role in “The Godfather.” I mention it now because when Brando was announced as the winner, a young woman in full Indian garb rose to accept the award.
Her name was Sacheen Littlefeather and she was an activist with AIM. She had come to tell the Academy that Brando was refusing the award as his means of protesting the negative portrayal of American Indians in Hollywood movies and television shows.
Brando’s symbolic protest bombed (a fate I hope won’t befall this column). And maybe the Oscars wasn’t the right venue. But the truth is, what was done to Native Americans in this country ranks right up there with any genocide ever committed in the history of mankind. (In my defense, at least I waited until after the holiday to bring it up.)
George Orwell once said of history that, “He who controls the present controls the past.” (Why do you think George Bush wrote his “memoir?”) Mark Twain said, “History is only the winner’s version.”
Since the white man was the “winner” of the wars with the Native Americans, it’s easy to forget the real history. I love celebrating Thanksgiving, but it’s a little hard for me to get into the “land of the Pilgrim’s pride” spirit when that land was stolen at the cost of millions of lives. Yes, I know some Native American tribes have casinos now (actually, very few) but somehow it doesn’t quite seem a fair exchange.
The late George Carlin once observed about America, “First we enslaved the black man for 400 years. Then we committed genocide on the red man, stole the land of the brown man, and dropped the Atomic bomb on the yellow man. Our motto should be, ‘Give us a color and we’ll wipe it out!’” (Please send George your angry e-mails, not me.) I can only add, who says we discriminate?
Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.