As a nation, we have much for which to be thankful, even as racial strife continues to rile our politics, our day-to-day lives, and our interactions with those who don't look like us.
I'm thankful that even after this week's mass shootings in Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, and beyond, doctors have the good sense to stand against a gun lobby determined to downplay the danger of firearms. I'm thankful that after voter suppression reared its ugly head in the Georgia governor's race, we're still free to call out corruption for what it is. I'm thankful that as nepotism has enabled Ivanka Trump to mishandle government emails, we're freely able to contemplate whether "Lock her up!" is an appropriate response.
I'm thankful, most of all, that as Thanksgiving arrives in the midst of the most bizarre atmosphere I've ever experienced as an American, we're free to view the holiday through the lens of our various racial and ethnic backgrounds. And then, after experiencing the holiday through our own cultural lenses, we can do the much harder thing. We can see it through the eyes of others.
If Thanksgiving is the holiday we've been told about, it is a shared meal symbolizing an alliance between good-hearted Pilgrims who braved the horrific journey to the New World, and Native Americans who generously helped them to survive their first brutal winter on these shores.
Flip the lens, however, and view it from the perspective of Native Americans, and we see a holiday that is celebrated by some, and despised by others. In fact, for several groups of Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a day to mourn.
Every Thanksgiving since 1970, the United American Indians of New England and their allies have gathered in Plymouth, Mass., to mark a National Day of Mourning. For them, Thanksgiving did not mark the birth of a new nation. It marked the crippling of an old nation.
"Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture," says a statement on the organization's website. "Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience."
For those who claim that Native Americans are overstating their case in calling out continued racism and oppression, I invite you to examine the Dakota Access pipeline protests. In 2016, thousands demonstrated against the oil pipeline, which flows through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
The protests centered on the Native American argument that the pipeline would threaten their water supply, violate treaties, and soil sacred lands. But after construction on the pipeline was halted under the Obama administration, Donald Trump, in one of his first acts as president, signed an executive order that resumed the project.
The oppression doesn't stop there. Native Americans were targeted in a North Dakota voter suppression scheme that required Voter ID for the recent midterm elections. Voters were required to present IDs that include a physical address rather than a P.O. box. That requirement effectively disenfranchised Native Americans who lived on reservations, because on many reservations, there are no physical addresses — only P.O. boxes.
That kind of ongoing discrimination mirrors the racism that African Americans and Latinos experience. Yet when race is discussed in America, Native Americans are often excluded from the conversation. In essence, the group that was here before all of us is often rendered invisible.
Perhaps this Thanksgiving, as we gather around tables to celebrate, we can go beyond giving thanks for all the things that make America. Maybe we can also give thanks for all the people who make America.
Doing so would require acknowledging the humanity of Native Americans. It would require seeing them as people who not only cry and mourn, but also as people who laugh and rejoice. It would require looking beyond caricatures.
Because in truth, there are some in the Native American community who will join hands this Thanksgiving and acknowledge that they've survived despite persecution. Some will raise their voices to give thanks for their success in spite of racism.
Maybe this Thanksgiving, after so many years of telling a one-sided version of the Thanksgiving tale, America should recognize the people on the other side of the table, and give thanks that they are still here.