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Are the Origins of Thanksgiving Racist?

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

Thanksgiving. Pretty racist right? Those poor helpless Indians tried to make peace with the Pilgrims, and it soon led to over two hundred years of exploitation and massacre. That's what those opposing Thanksgiving would tell you. But what they don't tell you is what actually happened at that first Thanksgiving.

In the early fall of 1620, several Puritans departed England with the hopes of beginning a new life in the New World. They eventually arrived at Plymouth Harbor and founded a colony in modern-day Massachusetts. The following winter was devastating for the newly founded Plymouth colony. Less than 50% of the colonists going into the winter came out of the winter alive. With this tragic loss of life, the Pilgrims knew adequate preparation would need to be made if they were ever going to ever survive the following winters.

This is when Squanto, a member of the nearby Pawtuxet tribe came to their aid. He famously gave the Pilgrims advice for efficiently growing corn, the best locations for hunting and fishing, and he helped the Pilgrims create an alliance with the local Wampanoag tribe.

After the following harvest in 1621, the Pilgrims invited several of their local Indian allies, including those from the Wampanoag tribe, for a feast held in celebration of their successful harvest and newfound friendship. This feast would become known as the first Thanksgiving, and it was the beginning of a fifty-year long peace between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe.

Many years after our nation's founding, in the middle of the Civil War in 1863, Abraham Lincoln looked at this event in history, saw a long, prosperous peace and mutual understanding between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, and decided to make a national holiday celebrating that incredible and unique event. He wanted Americans to remember when two separate peoples came together and founded a friendship that would last for generations, and he hoped that the North and South would find a way to do the same.

Thanksgiving is not a celebration of the war, death, and destruction of the seemingly endless list of American-Indian wars. Rather, it is a celebration of one of the few points in history when Americans and Indians found a way to get along.

We can always look at a positive point in history and tear it apart with the negative events that both proceeded and preceded it. But that is not only a poor method for analyzing history, but it is a poor method for analyzing anything in life. It is better to accept the good event for what it is, while also understanding the context of that event. Negative events surrounding a positive event do not make a positive event less important, or impactful, they just make it that much more powerful.

Thanksgiving is not racist. It is neither a celebration of war nor, a celebration of the fact that thousands of American settlers and Native Americans died in the events that would follow. It is a celebration of peace, and a time to appreciate the good that is in your life. So enjoy Thanksgiving, remember the context of the event, and if anyone calls you racist for doing that, tell them to read up on why Thanksgiving is not, in fact, a racist holiday.

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