Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jensen vs. DallasBlog: Should Thanksgiving be replaced with 'day of atonement'

Left-wing UT-Austin Prof. Robert Jensen called on Alternet for making Thanksgiving a national day of atonement, and on DallasBlog this was received as a big joke.

I'm not a tremendous fan of Jensen's; I agree with him sometimes, but I often think he take extremist vews just for show. On the other hand he tends to expand the terms of debate and usually doesn't hurt anything, and there's that whole First Amendment thing, after all, so I don't usually let it bother me.

What I don't like, though, is when provocations offer reactionaries opportunities for backlash that they use to slam a wide variety of folks who don't agree at all with Jensen or others on the extreme left. Just as important, I also think we should be respectful of history, should view it as a teacher, not a club with which to pound our enemies. That's probably why impulse overcame wisdom and I responded to DallasBlog in the comments (somewhat) defending Jensen. Here's what I said:
Read the excellent and profoundly disturbing history "Bury my heart at Wounded Knee" for a sad description of what we should atone for on Thanksgiving.

Indeed, one can view the Pilgrims as America's first illegal immigrants. Uninvited and unwanted, they entered in opposition to the residents' wishes and under the authority of no native law.

One thing I'll say for Jensen, I think most of us need more atonement, actually. One of the things I liked about Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March was that he billed it as a day of atonement, of introspection for black men, and that focus resonated and was embraced by a lot of folks, with positive results.

Pride goest before a fall, whether it's black pride, gay pride or perhaps especially, as with Thanksgiving, nationalist pride. We live in a great nation built on 400 years of slavery, genocidal extermination of its former residents, not to mention imperial military conquests that seized half the mainland territory from Mexico by force, plus a bloody Civil War that only ended after Gen. Sherman brought the phrase "total war" (read: routinizing mass war crimes against civilians) into the modern vocabulary.

We have much to be thankful for as a nation. But if our thanks aren't tinted with humility for the suffering, pain and loss which enabled our presently dominant position [in the world], such celebrations risk indulging in hubris, encouraging an unjustifiedly unexamined, rank nationalism that ill serves us, IMO.

So I don't know about a fast - I like my stuffing and pumpkin pie - but I like that somebody's reminding the public that Thanksgiving celebrates a history with very complex meanings, not just simplistic, nationalist ones. Best,
I don't agree with Jensen we need to "replace" Thanksgiving. I think it's fine to give thanks. I think giving real, earnest thanks implies the humility that Jensen wishes were more commonly expressed during the holidays. If we are truly thankful, it's because we know that we do not deserve grace but have been offered it anyway. It's because no one can repay those old debts, those sins cannot be erased, but they can be forgiven.

You can't wag your finger and lecture people into bevaving more humbly. All you can do, I think, especially for a teacher, is demonstrate such behavior yourself and hope your example inspires others.

UPDATE: More from Robbie at Urban Grounds.

1 comment:

John said...

Just discovered Huevos Rancheros -- and I like it! Keep up the good work, and thanks for checking up on me ...