The peculiar national holiday is a celebration of white settler conquest – a whitewashing of unspeakable crimes.
“Denial is facilitated by an extensive and elaborate collection of myths.”
When a sane person commits a horrific, unspeakable crime, that person’s psyche is unable to effectively withstand the trauma. Such an individual will either suffer a loss of mental stability or instinctively default to any of several psychological coping mechanisms. As a consequence of a protracted campaign of conquest, territorial theft, genocide and enslavement, European settlers in the U.S. and their racial heirs have had to cope with heavy emotional baggage. Knowledge that the country they relish is built on piles of bloody carcasses of many millions of African and indigenous peoples overwhelms their souls, and coping requires a focused, deliberate and permanent state of denial. Denial is facilitated by an extensive and elaborate collection of myths, legends and outright lies about U.S. history and historical figures. Desirable fantasies can even be projected on to contemporary personalities like Barack Obama who has enabled many a white person in denial to say: “There is no more racism because we elected a black president.”
Through the years, a favorite coping mechanism has been the Thanksgiving holiday. The all-too-familiar scenario of musket-bearing pilgrims clad in heavily starched black clothing benevolently sharing a roasted turkey dinner with less fortunate indigenous neighbors is comforting to the white mind, but quite different from contemporaneous accounts of the thanksgiving commemoration of a massacre of indigenous people. In 1637, Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford described the massacre of a community of Pequot people by white settlers:
“Those that [escaped] the fire were [slain] with the sword; some hewed to [pieces], others [run] [through] with their rapiers, so as 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], and the streams of blood quenching the same, and 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].”
Scholars believe Bradford underestimated the number of indigenous people killed. More informed estimates place the number of Pequot victims at around 700. In his journal, Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop referred to “…a day of thanksgiving kept in all the churches for our victories against the Pequots.”
“It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire.”
Notwithstanding ever-growing awareness of Thanksgiving realities — due in large part to the persistent struggles of First Nations people to shatter racist fantasies with truth — many in white communities who are committed to living in denial move effortlessly into yet another set of lies. They are particularly grateful to opportunistic or self-hating people of color who are willing to create or repeat these lies and thereby validate them. For that reason, Dinesh D’Souza, an individual born in Bombay, India, is an absolute darling of the white right.
In his book What’s So Great About America, D’Souza argues that European conquest allowed peoples of color to have the opportunity to become exposed to civilization. He writes: “I realize that in saying these things I am opening the door for my critics, and the incorrigible enemies of the West, to say that I am justifying colonialism … This is the purest nonsense. What I am doing is pointing out a historical fact: despite the corrupt and self-serving motives of [its] practitioners … colonialism … proved to be the mechanism that brought millions of nonwhite people into the orbit of Western freedom.”
They don’t often say it out loud, but many white people comfort themselves with thoughts along these lines. There is an arrogant presumption that Europeans were in all cases refined, humane and in all ways more sophisticated than Africans and America’s indigenous peoples. The white imagination concocts mental images of naked, war-painted savages whose greatest architectural achievements were crude huts and tents. These white chauvinists are unable to even contemplate the pre-colonial Africa described by Cheikh Anta Diop, who wrote:
“The houses of the [Dogons] are built of stone, with several stories, cut into cliffs. Some of these buildings are partially below ground level, and thus have subterranean cellars. The tiered attics in the shape of [geometrically complicated] towers are of a style directly related to that of the crenellated walls of the tatas and Sudanese mosques.”
Diop also notes: “In the Middle Ages, four centuries before Levy-Bruhl wrote his Primitive Mentality, Muslim Black Africa was already commenting upon Aristotle’s ‘formal logic’ and practicing dialectics…Students came from all directions, all regions…in ardent pursuit of science and virtue.”
Diop’s Africa is unknown to many white minds that would be absolutely blown if they contrasted his research about Africa with the truth about the earliest white settlers in America. In 2012, anthropologists found evidence that during a 1609 famine, settlers in Jamestown cannibalized a 14-year-old English girl. The Smithsonian Institution reported:
“This might be the first specimen that provides evidence for cannibalism, but [the lead anthropologist] is pretty sure there are more to come. [A Jamestown president’s] letter also describes how, as president of the colony, he tortured and burned alive a man who had confessed to killing, salting and eating his pregnant wife—so the remains of this woman, along with other victims of cannibalism, may still be waiting to be found underground. ‘It’s fairly convincing, now that we see this one, that this wasn’t the only case,’ he says. There are other examples mentioned here and there in the literature. So the only question is: Where are the rest of the bodies?”
As millions gather around dinner tables on Thursday with visions of saintly Pilgrims in their heads, those of us who know better will instead bow our heads and mourn for those who have fallen victim to settler barbarism and we will thank almighty God that the descendants of these poor souls live on and fight on for justice that is certain to come.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently for Black Agenda Report. He can be contacted at mfancher[at]comcast.net.