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How I’ve made peace with America’s Thanksgiving myth

A scene from Chicago's 2011 Thanksgiving Day Parade down State Street. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

When I was a junior at Howard University, a group of friends and I fasted for Thanksgiving while we were home on break.

We saw ourselves as standing in solidarity with indigenous people. My parents likely saw it as a precious antic.

As a child, I hated Thanksgiving Day food. I did not stuff myself with turkey, dressing and candied yams at family gatherings. Thanksgiving dinner equaled eating leftovers for days.

OPINION

As a young adult, I felt ambivalent about Thanksgiving. I often had to work that day, given my junior reporter status at newspapers. And though I fasted on Thanksgiving just that one time, I still bristled at the fake story of harvest, pilgrims and fellowship with Native Americans.

Thanksgiving is a holiday drenched in the blood of colonialism.

My other problem with Thanksgiving was that it forced parameters around expressing gratitude. (I should note that I love most other holidays and overlook their contradictions.)

Now that I’m older, I’ve somewhat made peace with Thanksgiving. Dressing tastes good now. Dark turkey meat is juicy. And I’m never against communing with family and friends, though I still chafe at this country’s dark history of genocide and want our Thanksgiving prayers to acknowledge this.

I try to center myself in gratitude daily. When I remember to, I say my blessings aloud in the shower. Being thankful is a state of mind and helps me be present even when I want to wallow. I do fall short of my self-imposed expectations.

Let me use this column, then, to speak aloud what I’m thankful for beyond good health and the daily love I receive from those in my home and in my community of extended family and friends.

In the past two weeks, I’ve reflected on the rich cultural activity I’ve participated in all over Chicago:

Seeing writers and even participating in the Chicago Humanities Festival. Checking out the ICONIC: Black Panther art exhibit. Being in conversation with historian Barbara Ransby about her book “Making All Black Lives Matter.” Listening, two days later, to political scientist Cathy Cohen talk to Charlene Carruthers about her new book “Unapologetic.” Feeling mesmerized, the day after that, as the scholar Imani Perry waxed on about Lorraine Hansberry.

I was in the audience for Lisa Yun Lee’s presentation on the update of the National Public Housing Museum on the West Side. I stopped by the grand opening of the Green Line Performing Arts Center in Washington Park. I joined in at curator Tempestt Hazel’s International Black Writer’s Conference, Revisited.

What a wonderful city we live in, and I had only scratched the cultural surface.

In the past month, I’ve spoken on various panels about what it means to be a black journalist in Chicago. The profession attracted me at age 13, a lover of words and books. I felt frustrated by how the news media covered black neighborhoods, centered on violence and stripped of humanity. My work is influenced by the social, cultural and political conditions of the South Side.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission, which investigated racial civil unrest in American cities and concluded in a famous report that our nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” The report also criticized how the white media portrays the black community.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the adage goes.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the honor and responsibility of being a reporter, telling stories for people, not about them. I am forever grateful.

As I write these words, it’s 9 p.m. on a weekday. My two-year-old daughter is watching the Disney movie “Moana” for perhaps the 10th time in the past week. Okay, maybe 20th. She’s trying to hum along. When I get up to turn it off, she will cry and beg to watch. Again.

Where does one begin pointing out all the bad parenting decisions here? I count at least five. But I’m thankful that I feel like my husband and I achieve balance, which isn’t measured from day to day, but as a state of being. The way I think about thankfulness.

And so on this Thanksgiving Day, I’ll eat my mother-in-law’s sweet potato pie with the same gusto I feel gratefulness.

Sun-Times columnist Natalie Y. Moore is a reporter for WBEZ and author of “The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.” 

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