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Est. April 5, 2002
December 01, 2016 - Issue 677

A "Stay Woke" Thanksgiving!

"I never thought a 2016 presidential election
would have me not only time travel back to
the 1950s and 1960s, but reside there at
least for the next four years."

As I prepared for the Thanksgiving holiday, I was reminded of the autumnal harvest time’s spiritual significance. As a time of connectedness, I paused to acknowledge what I have to be thankful for.

I am immensely thankful as a married lesbian that I reside in Massachusetts, especially in what will soon become a Trump presidency that might overturn “Obergefell v. Hodges,” the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. With Trump having potentially three Supreme Court seats to fill with Antonin Scalia-like justices I can exhale knowing that Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage in the 2004 “Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health” landmark case.

However, as one who resides at the intersections of multiple identities - gender, race, sexual orientation, class, to name a few - this Thanksgiving, nonetheless, will be challenging for me because I wake up each morning hoping to find the portal to November 7th, the day before the election, to linger and dream and feel safe there a little while longer than where I am presently. I never thought a 2016 presidential election would have me not only time travel back to the 1950s and 1960s, but reside there at least for the next four years.

While race is a subject from which America loves to hide, even when it glaringly drove Trump’s presidential campaign. White supremacists, however, had no problem unabashedly coming out of the closet, espousing and demonstrating their nativist predilection for “white power.” The Ku Klux Klan, America’s unapologetic domestic terrorist group founded in the 1860’s, for example, on December 3 will hold a victory parade in North Carolina celebrating Trump’s election. Trump’s recent cabinet picks of an outdated and fading group of “aggrieved” white heterosexist good old boys - Steve Bannon, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, and whoever else likes these men included in Trump’s cabinet - will become white supremacists’ potential mouthpieces.

This “white-lashing,” bleaching the core values of diversity and the dismantling of an inclusive country where we all have a fair and equal chance at the American dream, has emboldened some Americans’ “inner bigot.” Since Trump’s election, there has been an uptick of random acts of hate crimes, even in liberal Massachusetts, against Muslim, LGBTQs and people of color. The mayor of Holyoke, Alex Morse, an openly gay male, just recently received a threatening letter warning him to beware.

“Alex, you are one of the most selfish people that I know due to your ‘gay’ lifestyle,” the note began. “You are going down.”

While this Thanksgiving season might not feel, for many of us, like a cause to celebrate, I realize, for many of my Native American brothers and sisters, this holiday has felt this way for centuries, irrespective of whom was elected president.

Historically, since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Coles Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to commemorate a National Day of Mourning of this U.S. holiday. And for the Wampanoag nation of New England, whose name means “people of the dawn,” this national holiday is a reminder of the real significance of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 as a symbol of persecution and genocide of their ancestral nation and culture as well as their long history of bloodshed with European settlers.

“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,” reads the text of the plaque on Coles Hill that overlooks Plymouth Rock, the mythical symbol of where the Pilgrims first landed.

However, the Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in America from religious persecution in their homeland, were right in their dogged pursuit of religious liberty. But their actual practice of religious liberty came at the expense of the civil rights of Native Americans.

Case in point: homophobia is not indigenous to Native American culture. Rather, it is one of the many devastating effects of colonization and Christian missionaries that today, Two-Spirits may be respected within one tribe yet ostracized in another.

“Homophobia was taught to us as a component of Western education and religion,” Navajo anthropologist Wesley Thomas has written. “We were presented with an entirely new set of taboos, which did not correspond to our own models and which focused on sexual behavior rather than the intricate roles Two-Spirit people played. As a result of this misrepresentation, our nations no longer accepted us as they once had.”

The Pilgrims’ animus toward homosexuals, especially Two-Spirits and LGBTQ Native Americans, not only impacted Native American culture, but also shaped Puritan law and theology. Traditionally, Two-Spirits symbolized Native Americans’ acceptance and celebration of diverse gender expressions and sexual identities. They were revered as inherently sacred because they possessed and manifested both feminine and masculine spiritual qualities that were believed to bestow upon them a “universal knowledge” and special spiritual connectedness with the “Great Spirit.” Although the term was coined in the early 1990s, historically, Two-Spirits depicted transgender Native Americans. Today, the term has come to also include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Native Americans.

Here in the New England states, the anti-sodomy rhetoric had punitive if not deadly consequences for a newly developing and sparsely populated area. The Massachusetts Bay Code of 1641 called for the death of not only heretics, witches and murderers, but also “sodomites,” stating that death would come swiftly to any “man lying with a man as with a woman.” And the renowned Puritan pastor and Harvard tutor, the Rev. Samuel Danforth, in his 1674 “ fire and brimstone” sermon, preached to his congregation that the death sentence for sodomites had to be imposed because it was a biblical mandate.

Because the Pilgrims’ fervor for religious liberty was devoid of an ethic of accountability, their actions did not set up the conditions requisite for moral liability and legal justice. Instead, the actions of the Pilgrims brought about the genocide of a people, an historical amnesia of the event, and an annual parade and national celebration of Thanksgiving for their arrival.

As a beginning gesture toward redress, in 1990 President George H.W. Bush designated November as “National American Indian Heritage Month” to celebrate the history, art, and traditions of Native American people. However, in light of celebrating and honoring Native American people since 1990, one would think that television images of whites doing “war whoops” and “tomahawk chops,” coming across our screen would be buried and long gone with its troubled era of Native American relations in this country. And, the Washington Redskins in 2016 - a team that originated as the Boston Braves, based in Boston in 1932 and who adopted the name “Redskins” when they moved to D.C in 1937 - would have, by now, come up with another name for their football team.

This Thanksgiving might not look hopeful for many but I draw my strength and models of justice from the interconnections and intersections of various struggles and activist groups across the nation as well as the world. For example, the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), a Native-led organization of Native people, supports Indigenous struggles in New England and throughout the Americas, as well as the struggles of communities of color, LGBTQ, Muslims, women, and yes, the Pilgrim refugees who arrived in the 1600s.

“Most pilgrims would have died during the harsh winter had it not been for the open arms of the Native Americans,” Taylor Bell wrote in ‘The Hypocrisy Of Refusing Refugees at Thanksgiving.”

Trump’s presidency worries me. Of late, we have seen its troubling outcome - the odious and embolden display of bigotry expressed in the forms of vandalism, physical attacks, hate crimes and hate speeches across the nation - even before he takes office in January. But I’m optimistic, in spite of this difficult and divided time in America, because the words and acts of justice spring up organically in places and times and even in people from whom you least expect it, signaling that the struggle continues on.

“We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us… This wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men [and] women of different colors, creeds, and orientations,” Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who portrays Aaron Burr in the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” told Vice President-elect, Mike Pence, during his night at the theater.

It is in the spirit of our connected struggles for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we not solely focus on the story of Plymouth Rock, but instead, as Americans, we focus on creating this nation as a solid rock that rests on a multicultural and inclusive foundation.

And in so doing, it helps us to remember and respect the struggles that not only this nation’s foremothers and forefathers endured, it also helps us to remember and respect the present-day struggle many disenfranchised communities across the country face - especially our Native American brothers and sisters, particularly on Thanksgiving Day.

[Author’s Note: Get woke” and “Stay woke” refers to being aware of what’s going on around you in regards to racism and social injustice issues. “Woke” is the past tense of “wake,” and it refers to waking up to what’s going on around us.] Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is  Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC. 




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