THE HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING

Growing up, one is always taught about the First Thanksgiving as a celebratory feast that the Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims to. After this, the pilgrims hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. However, this story is riddled with historical inaccuracies.

The Native Americans that the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth met with were the Wampanoags. The pilgrims landed in 1620 and the chief (sachem) Ousamequin offered them an entente—a friendly understanding or informal alliance—as a way to protect the Wampanoags against their rivals, the Narragansetts. This was not because he wanted to be friends; he and his people had been decimated by an epidemic disease and the English would be able to help him fend off his tribal rebels.

Moreover, the arrival of the Mayflower is not the first instance of the Wampanoags coming into contact with Europeans. Prior, they had been in contact with Europeans, but not in a friendly way. This history involves slave raiding and violence.

The result of telling and retelling the false origin of Thanksgiving is deeply harmful to the Wampanoag Indians whose lives and society were forever damaged after the English arrived in Plymouth. Some adults have said that they remember sitting in school during Thanksgiving and feeling invisible. Not only their classes, but society in general was making light of the historical trauma which weighs around their neck. The traditional narrative paints a deceptively sunny portrait of relationships between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, concealing the long and bloody history of conflict between the Native Americans and European settlers.

For more information about the first Thanksgiving, please check out this article! In it, David Silverman discusses his book This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving.

THE RACIST HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN POLICE

History of police in the US: How policing has evolved since the ...
The evolution of a police officer. Picture creds: Bettman & Anadolu Agency/ Getty

When people say abolish the police or ACAB, it’s necessary to know why exactly they are saying this. You might say, “but not all cops…” However, this is not what they are referring to. Rather, they are referring to the fact that cops uphold a racist and corrupt system that should be changed and abolished in order to create a new one.

The American police originally started as slave patrols and has since evolved into the American police force that we know today. It has set its foundation as racist and broken. It was created to protect white wealth at the expense of Black people, immigrants, and minorities. In the South, after slavery was abolished and slave patrols became uncommon, police took on new forms such as sheriffs who enforced segregation or groups like the KKK. In the North, police were used to control the increasing numbers of immigrant workers and would block labor strikes to suppress poor Americans.

In the 1800s, centralized white, male police departments formed in big cities like Boston, NYC, and Chicago. Springing from these police departments were patrols like Mounted Guards (now the Border Patrol) who maintained minority quotas and prevented illegal crossings. This was due to the increasing fear of labor uprisings and xenophobia. During Jim Crow, the police would enforce laws called “Black Codes” which upheld racism and segregation. The police would suppress protests during the Civil Rights movement, much like what they are doing right now. Black Americans would protest police abuse and racial profiling and would be met with violence–tear gas, high pressure hoses, and attack dogs.

Now, you might be wondering, would abolishing the police actually work? It has before! Several cities like Durham have implemented successful no-cop zones and harm-free zones where communities self-protect. Police abolition is not a new idea. It has been around since the 18th century. Additionally, the USA today spends approximately $100 billion a year on policing and a further $80 billion on incarceration. Defunding the police could result in more focus on education and health.

If you are still on the edge, I have included a story that I found on twitter about the corrupt police system. Adrian Schoolcraft went into the police force because he thought that he, along with the other police, would make the world a better place. So when he realized that some of his colleagues were lying and fudging numbers in order to meet their quotas, he reported them to his higher ups. The higher ups responded by saying that if he didn’t like it, then he could find a different job. Schoolcraft woke up on October 31, 2009 to the NYPD entering his home and forcibly interring him into a mental hospital. After he was discharged, he released the tapes of the conversations he overhead by officers about the faulty arrests, the clear issues in stop and frisk, and the general corruption of the NYPD. The Village Voice published them in their series “The NYPD Tapes.” The good cops are otracised, abused, and kidnapped by the “bad apples.”

https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/05/04/the-nypd-tapes-inside-bed-stuys-81st-precinct/

WHAT IS BLACKFACE?

Recently, a lot of celebrities and other people of power have been called out for their use of cultural appropriation, specifically blackface or, in the case of Bon Appetit’s ex-editor-in-chief, brownface. Cultural appropriation, sometimes called cultural misappropriation, is the “adoption or co-opting, usually without acknowledgment, of cultural identity markers associated with or originating in minority communities by people or communities with a relatively privileged status.” In media and mainstream culture, it seems that cultural appropriation runs rampant especially in the trends that we see. For example, the large hoop earrings seen on celebrities had been adopted from African culture. In the case of blackface, white people paint their faces black to “dress up” as black people. This had started nearly 200 years ago when white people painted their faces to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows (like a comic skit). It didn’t stop there. White performers would put on tattered clothes (to symbolize the poor-ness of black people) and exaggerated their features to look stereotypically “black.” This included using burnt cork and grease paint or shoe polish to darken their skin and red or white makeup to exaggerate their lips. They would also wear wooly wigs. In the shows, they would depict the enslaved Africans as lazy, ignorant, and cowardly. These performances were not only demeaning and hurtful to the black community, but also perpetuated inaccurate stereotypes of the black community.

The most popular blackface character was “Jim Crow.” The character was created by a white entertainer, and he would perform a song and dance act that was supposedly taught to him by a slave. Most might recognize the name “Jim Crow” because of its association with the laws that segregated, demeaned, and denied blacks basic human rights primarily from the 1870s to the 1960s (90 years!). Through these laws, it solidified the racial hierarchy throughout the USA as it ensured that the black community was forever on the bottom. These laws included segregating schools, redlining, segregating public facilities (black people would have to use the worse facilities where it was not well-kept, smaller, and older), segregating the bus, etc. Furthermore, intermarriage was prohibited.

The influence of the minstrel shows extended its way into media like movies where everyday American actors like Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, and Fred Astaire put on blackface in movies. Even black performers put on blackface, as they said it was the only way the could work. White audiences weren’t interested in watching black actors do anything but act foolish on stage, perpetuating the stereotype further. Furthermore, the only depiction of black life that white audiences saw was in minstrel shows. Therefore, by presenting enslaved Africans as the butt of jokes, it desensitized white Americans to the horrors of slavery.

Nowadays, as people are accused of blackface, they blame it on their own ignorance. However, with access to technology and information, we cannot blame things on our own ignorance and must own up to our mistakes. I encourage all of my readers to CALL PEOPLE OUT IF THEY’RE ARE DOING BLACKFACE OR ANYTHING DEMEANING TO ANOTHER RACE. RACISM IS NEVER OKAY!

While I’m uncomfortable with posting this image on my site, I think it serves as a way to further educate my readers as it shows how the media had portrayed the minstrel shows and blackface. As you can see, they have exaggerated the person’s features using makeup to signify a “stereotypical black man.”

Turkey in the Straw Sheet Music
A poster used to advertise a minstrel show

Originally published July 3

WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?

Today, June 19th, 2020, marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. You might ask, “What is Juneteenth?” To be honest, I had never heard of the holiday until I questioned why it was in my calendar. And that right there is an act of privilege that I have, to be able to be unaware about Juneteenth which celebrates the liberation and end of slavery in the United States when I am a United States citizen. But, I am educating myself and it is a process that will never be finished

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It dates back to June 19th, 1865 when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863). General Granger read to the people of Texas General Order Number 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

In response to this news, people were shocked but also jubilant. Though many stayed to see how the new employer to employee relationship unfolded, many set off North or to neighboring states to see family. Then, the Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying, and for gathering remaining family members. Now, many former slaves and descendants make an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date. There are a range of activities that you can do today to celebrate Juneteenth. However, I would like to caution all of you to not do anything rash because of the pandemic still around. So, here are some ways to celebrate Black Joy on Juneteenth:

  1. Buy artwork from a Black artist. This could come in the form of tapestries, clothing, or music.
  2. Read and discuss articles from The Root’s Black Excellence column
  3. Order takeout from a Black owned restaurant
  4. Venmo individual Black people doing good work in their community
  5. Listen to playlists and podcasts featured in Spotify’s ‘Black History is Now’ campaign
  6. Read a book by a Black author that’s main subject area is not racism.
  7. Watch a show or movie that has Black Joy. Some shows/movies on Netflix are #BlackAF, About The Washingtons, All American, Cheer, Dear White People, and many more.

Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations have declined which was a consequence of economic and cultural forces. Textbooks and classroom education didn’t cover the topic of slavery in detail and proclaimed that the Emancipation Proclamation was the only thing that signaled the ending of slavery. However, Juneteenth saw a resurgence of celebrations during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we must continue in stride and celebrate Juneteenth and with it, African American freedom and achievement.

Originally published June 19