Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays… it is centered most around family and food, two things I love dearly. In addition, because of my family”s Christian heritage, we saw it fit to share what we were thankful for… attempting to embody this thing called gratefulness. But is that really the right posture we ought to have as Christians towards Thanksgiving day?
The central issues that ought be considered have to do with history, memory, narrative, and power. As they say… the winner gets to right the history books. In this case, it is a warm fuzzy story of indigenous Americans helping the Europeans through a rough start, and them sharing a meal. The picture in my mind just leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy all over. However, what is not mentioned is that while the natives did in fact show much hospitality, the Western Europeans came and took everything from them. It is a story of conquest, imperialism, colonization, disease, suffering, loss, and almost complete genocide.
I do not dare suggest that a heart of gratitude is always an appropriate attitude to have at all times. We ought to be people that give thanks. But we should also be discerning people who give thanks for appropriate things. In this case, this “holiday” is a power move by the strong, to narrate history in a way that favors what was done. I am sure that this holiday is seen as hurtful and insulting to many 1st nations peoples.
This would be like their being a holiday to celebrate how helpful the African indentured servants were in 1619 in Jamestown, and how appreciative the westerners were of their hardwork. So because of this beautiful collaboration we are going to celebrate Unity Day through large festivities and parties. If this did exist, I am pretty sure what position I would take in response. So why is thanksgiving any different? Well as I write I am heading off to church and then family to “celebrate”. It must be our apathy towards others that allow us to ignore the sufferings of others.
Our trip to Kenya, must really start with our layover in London. We had a 13 hour layover, which gave us the opportunity to get out into the city and see the sights. It was my first and only time in Europe. I probably did not get to take it all in as much as I normally would have, since we were all dreadfully tired by the time we arrived in London, as it was time for bed in U.S. E.T., as we were getting our day started there.
We saw the sights…
We watched the changing of the guards.
If you look carefully, you will notice that the London bridge is not falling down (sorry, bad joke). Anyhow, we blended as much as a primarily black american group possibly can in London, which is not very well.
We eventually got back to the airport and onto the plane, heading for Kenya. Our final destination was the Mombasa Airport. I can still remember vividly as we drove off of the airport property, and immediately adjacent to the airport were shacks, and by shacks I mean people’s homes. During our hour long drive back to our campus, we saw neverending poverty. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen poverty like that before, but not that much. I can remember in Jamaica seeing the shack towns, but then you would also see some middle class areas as well. Here there seemed to be no middle class at all, and it wouldn’t be until more than half way through the week that we would see actual upper class neigbhorhoods.
As I stared out the window watching black people live in terrible conditions, my mind just kept taking me back to London, where we saw palaces, grandiose churches, and generational wealth. The reason my mind kept going there, is because as a psuedo historian, I know that Kenya was a colony of the British. I would be reminded by my friend John a Kenyan, that they were a British colony up into the 1960’s. And so it became pretty evident that there was a direct line between the wealth enjoyed in London, and the poverty that was being endured by the Kenyan people.
Little did I know that our London layover would serve as a historical reminder for me, in an in your face way. This theme seemed to come back a few times as we experienced Kenya. We also got to be in Kenya during Madaraka Day, which is the celebration of Independence from the British. The imprints and residue of British colonization were permeated throughout Kenyan culture. While that was obvious for me to see, I am sure that forms of colonization are imprinted on my life as well, to which I am oblivious to. And yet Jesus promises an alternative to the imperial imprint that tries to determine our values and practices, and that is the Kingdom of God. And so all I can say is let us resist some more.