Recently, my kid’s school had its annual Thanksgiving feast and my daughter was not present. Not because she was sick or had other five year old obligations. But because I decided to keep her home.
Now before I continue I want to say that I love her school. I love that she gets to experience both a school environment and learning with me at home most days. I love that she gets to pray for others, learn about God and all his amazingness, and still learn how to read and spell at the same time.
But just because she is enrolled at a particular school or even public school doesn’t mean that I agree with absolutely everything that is taught or celebrated. That would be negligence and ignorance on my part as a parent. And recently one of those disagreements came up. I sat down with her teacher, shared my views and opinions, was respected for my decision, and the show went on.
Growing up, I remember learning about Thanksgiving, Pilgrims and Indians, and the heroism of Christopher Columbus. I remember dressing up in feathers and sharing fake turkey and corn during school plays. I remember thinking that it was so amazing that a man could discover the Americas despite the doubts of his own people.
Then somewhere along the line I learned that almost none of the things that shaped my perception of Thanksgiving or discovery were true. Yes, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and accidentally landed on various Caribbean islands. But homeboy never actually set foot on North America. So you can see the confusion as to why learning of his discoveries was so important. And that’s not even touching the atrocities that came along when he found land, including slavery and wiping out populations with disease and murder.
On the other hand, I believe that our country and our world is coming to a precipice on how we react to cultural issues. On one hand, there are groups of people screaming for justice, understanding, and equality. On the other, you have those who feel these groups are being too sensitive and should understand that certain phrases, names, or traditions are just that. And traditions never offend, right?
Well as a mother and a human, I felt like I needed to take a stand. I didn’t feel the need to picket, protest, or angrily share my views and why I felt Christopher Columbus should not be celebrated or made part of a school assignment. But I did feel the need to step away from what has become the norm and teach her that understanding the who, what, when, and why behind tradition is more important than the tradition itself.
I explained to her teacher that just because you or I may view someone’s offense as being too sensitive or not seeing the positive aspects of a Thanksgiving feast doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge that hurt. Because somewhere in that hurt is validity. And whether I agree with it or not, I will make an effort to understand. And once I understand, I will make the decision to teach my child that all traditions are not necessary and some of them may even be harmful.
Dressing up as “Pilgrims and Indians” may seem harmless, but there are echoes of discontentment that run deep in Native American culture that are dying to be heard. Whether it’s cultural appropriation, cartoonish images, stereotypical war cries heard at football games, or the names of sports teams. Each of these things has a history that I dare you to explore further.
And even if you decide these histories have nothing to do with you and bear no importance in the course of your life, at least acknowledge the weight they carry for others.