White and nonblack people: I have spent years doing anti-racist work, reading and signal boosting voices of color (especially black voices), and reprogramming my brain from the racist messages society has taught me.
And still, when a white friend mentioned some young nonblack people feeling discomfort around an older black man, I immediately leapt to forgive the actions of those nonblack folks by checking to see if the person in question had harmed them. Even thinking back on the situation, I find myself making excuses for why I did this: “I live in a predominantly white town, so, knowing an older black male with an interest relative to my friend’s experience, it’s logical that I clarified that it wasn’t him. If it had been him, the discomfort my friend described could have been similar to discomfort I and others I know feel around that person, which might have to deal with misogyny, so it makes sense”. My friend mentioned the age and race of the person to indicate that he believed the group of young nonblack people was being discriminatory. The instinct I have to find out why their actions weren’t problematic is, in itself, problematic.
So how can I claim to be involved in anti-racist work? Because I’m trying. Because reprogramming myself doesn’t happen overnight. I can be honest with myself – I’m still racist. The excuses I made for myself are racist. The instinct to support the nonblack people’s intentions and even to begin to think of blaming the black man for their discomfort is racist. I’m a recovering racist. I hope this acknowledgement will help me be less racist in the future. I hope white people read this and learn more about themselves and the anti-racist work they have to do.
This acknowledgement that I’m racist is not enough. Still, I forgive myself for it. Because without forgiving myself I would be swimming in shame. I’d rather swim out of shame by changing my actions. Maybe next time I’ll catch my instincts a little sooner. If I continue trying, maybe they won’t happen at all.
This holiday represents a bloody history and present of genocide of the people who were living in North America before European colonizers arrived. What is often referred to as the “first Thanksgiving” is merely one of the first harvest celebrations that settlers had on what would become U.S. soil. The settlers didn’t reach out to invite the Wampanoag people to feast with them; they invited them only after they showed up in response to hearing gunshots, a celebratory act of the Europeans over the harvest. There wasn’t enough food, so some Wampanoag warriors went out to bring back deer (Tirado, 2011). What I and many other students learned in elementary school is that this was a friendly meal shared between different groups of people.
History surrounding the “first Thanksgiving” and what Thanksgiving means to the Wampanoag
When the Mayflower arrived, a majority of the Wampanoag tribe had recently been wiped out due to plague brought by the Europeans. Tisquantum, a Wampanoag who had been enslaved while his people were dying of the plague, negotiated release and returned to his village (present-day Plymouth) just before the Mayflower arrived (Johnson, 2017). The Wampanoag still living nearby saw that the Mayflower carried women and children, and therefore must be coming in peace. The Europeans arrived in winter without sufficient food. Tisquantum, who could speak English from his enslavement, taught survival skills to the settlers. He organized a meeting with Massasoit, a Wampanoag leader, and John Carver, the European’s governor to negotiate a peace treaty (National Museum of the American Indian).
After the “first Thanksgiving”, Massasoit continued to honor the peace treaty despite aggressive actions toward the Wampanoag by the European colonists. However, over four decades after the colonists arrived and over a decade after Massasoit’s death, the Wampanoag were defeated in war, and only 400 Wampanoag people survived. The population has increased since then to about 2750 (Wikipedia, 2017).
Today, people from indigenous tribes across the U.S. use the national holiday of Thanksgiving as a day of mourning for the beginning of the ongoing genocide of their people (Tirado, 2011).
History surrounding the U.S. holiday and what Thanksgiving means to many non-indigenous people
Two centuries after the colonists taught by Tisquantum celebrated their first harvest across the Atlantic, Sarah Josepha Hale began writing letters to politicians and publications promoting the importance of a day for families to feast together and express gratitude toward God (History.com, 2009). As President Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday during the civil war, it was a harvest celebration devoted to God, the continual provider of food even in war-torn times (Baker, 2007).
Somehow a story of pilgrims and Wampanoag people feasting peacefully together emerged in schools a few decades (Plimoth Plantation, 2017). Plimoth Plantation claims that schools adopted this story in order to teach values of “freedom and how to be good citizens.”
Dissecting Thanksgiving in school
How does the Thanksgiving story teach values? The colonists from Europe exercised freedom to find a new land where they were free from religious persecution. To exercise this freedom, Sarah Josepha Hale, Abraham Lincoln, and others recognized a day to express gratitude toward their God. While this might have seemed like a freedom to them, naming a holiday for a specific God is hardly freeing to people of all religious affiliations. Referring to a capitalized God is referring to a specific god that might not hold any meaning to some people. Worse, this God holds a negative connotation to many non-Christians, who are erased by the assumption that everyone should dedicate this day to thanking God for the gifts of nature.
It is especially harmful that in order to encourage thankfulness, a story is told of an event that occurred near the beginning of the genocide of peoples who practice daily gratitude. It is cruel and insensitive that a holiday centers on gratitude toward a Christian god, who is believed to love all people, yet has been the excuse for persecution throughout the continent on which the holiday is celebrated.
The other value Plimoth Plantation refers to is being good citizens. Where in the story of the “first Thanksgiving” are the good citizens? The Wampanoag were invited to feast with the colonists, but only after they stumbled on the feast. Do we want to teach students to raise only enough food for themselves? Do we want to teach students to exclude others until guilt stares them in the face? Likely not. Plimoth Plantation must, then, be referring to the generosity of the Wampanoag.
The Wampanoag brought additional food to the harvest celebration, since there wasn’t enough for everyone. This is not overly generous, though it does reduce stress, much like an organized potluck. The overly generous person in the story is Tisquantum, whose generosity extends beyond teaching survival skills to the colonists; he negotiated peace between the Wampanoag and the European settlers, and encouraged other tribes to trade with colonists as well. While this act might seem generous to the Eurocentric mind, Tisquantum’s generosity may have enabled or hastened the speed of genocide of peoples native to the continent. Yes, Tisquantum was generous. But we can only speculate on his motives. After having been enslaved, was help offered out of pure generosity or perceived self-preservation? Schools should teach self-preservation for what it is; sometimes people do things they don’t want to do in order to survive.
Actual Thanksgiving story lessons
Sharing skills is a great way to help others become self-sufficient.
Sometimes helping others goes without thanks.
Sometimes people do things they don’t want to do in order to survive.
Peace is often not from actual shared understanding and respect but for tactical advantage.
White people have a history of using and abusing people who are not white.*
White people are fairly unpracticed in gratitude.
*White people are not the only people to exercise racism, and white people can also abuse white people.
Wikipedia. (2017, 11 16). Wampanoag. Retrieved 11 20, 2017, from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wampanoag
Baker, P. M. (2007). The Godmother of Thanksgiving: the Story of Sarah Josepha Hale. Retrieved 11 20, 2017, from Pilgrim Society: http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/pdf/Godmother_of_Thanksgiving.pdf
History.com. (2009). History of Thanksgiving. Retrieved 11 20, 2017, from History.com: http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving
Johnson, C. (2017). Tisquantum (“Squanto”). Retrieved 11 20, 2017, from
NMAI. (n.d.). Harvest Ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving Myth. Retrieved 11 20, 2017, from National Museum of the American Indian: http://nmai.si.edu/sites/1/files/pdf/education/NMAI_Harvest_Study_Guide.pdf
Plimoth Plantation. (2017). Thanksgiving History. Retrieved 11 20, 2017, from Plimoth Plantation: https://www.plimoth.org/learn/just-kids/homework-help/thanksgiving/thanksgiving-history
Tirado, M. (2011, 11 23). The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story. Retrieved 11 20, 2017, from Indian Country Day: https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/the-wampanoag-side-of-the-first-thanksgiving-story/
I spent three years strategizing, meeting with legislators, and writing/publishing my thoughts and experience. I spent four or five months of those three years doing solely that, until I no longer knew who I was outside the co-op experience. Now I know that every aspect of who I am has been shaped by co-ops, and without them I really, truly, do not exist. Co-ops are the only space that consistently validate my averseness to capitalism. Co-ops provide the conversations I need in order to understand my identities, including but not limited to my queer identities, even when no one else in my household identifies similarly. Co-ops encourage constant personal growth, which allows me to stay alive and have something to work toward in this f-ed up world.
And yet, there is so much red tape causing co-ops to consistently focus on paperwork instead of the real work they exist to put into play. My co-op put off extremely important work in order to focus on legalization so that we could have each other in the future. We lost a housemate in the process, who was affected by that delay in a manner that made the home unbearable. We collectively held back our emotions for two months in order to get through the paperwork. We experienced burnout similar to my burnout after running for city council. And for what?
City council members know how exhausting the demands of other people can be. So why place that on us? We wasted two months of our existence trying to meet the city’s demands, and now we received a letter in the mail requiring 9 more items. Out of 38 items. Almost a quarter of our work wasn’t good enough for the city.
I know that no level of burnout will ever be good enough for some people, but I thought the city workers were on my side. I learned years ago that I should have kept my mouth shut, and waited until people like me were literally being killed to start a revolution. Except I did. Forcing people into homelessness is equivalent to killing some of these people, especially people with marginalized identities such as trans women.
F- the city. F- the people who say that want to be inclusive and do whatever they can to look the part while doing whatever they can to not act the part.
We’ve done what we can to be civil. I need to rest, but all I feel is unrest.
I am asexual. I know many of you won’t have ever heard this term, so I’ll try to describe what it means to me, and link you to more resources to learn more about the asexual spectrum. Please also recognize that if you’re reading this post on the internet, you can learn more about anything by typing it into the search bar.
These are some of the ways in which I see my asexualism manifest:
- I have observed that many people have a mind that often jumps to sex. I do not have a sexual mind. I say things that are sometimes taken as sexual innuendos and I don’t notice until someone points it out. I don’t notice sexual innuendos when other people make them. I don’t enjoy sex jokes. I don’t usually notice if things are yonic or phallic because vaginas and penises are rarely on my mind.
- I’m fairly oblivious to come-ons. Since I would always prefer to get to know someone than to hook up with them, I don’t realize that the reverse is true for many people, depending on the situation. When making plans with someone, I almost always assume it’s friendly plans, and then get anxious when I learn it might mean something else to them.
- I need sexual intent to be extremely explicit. To illustrate how explicit communication needs to be for me to understand that somebody means to have sex with me: invitations to sleep in the same room or bed does not imply sex to me. I love spooning all night long and rarely imagine that it could lead to sex.
- I am tremendously sensitive to being sexually objectified. That doesn’t mean I have never enjoyed showing off my body, but it means it’s rare. When I dance, it’s for me and me alone, and I generally feel really awkward dancing with other people, especially if I don’t know them. I hate it when people dance with me nonconsensually. This is partly a response to a traumatic experience when I was younger, but I think it also has to do with the societal link between dancing and sex; I don’t want to be thought of as someone to have sex with.
- I have a lower-than-average sex drive. It is almost entirely controlled by my cycle. When I do crave sex, it is a physical stimulation I desire, not a connection with a person. In most situations in which I’ve had sex, it’s been to fit in. My choice to have sex rarely comes from a physical desire; I am more often curious or desiring closeness. Sexual exploration is something I am comfortable with, as long as it is clear that I don’t want to explore very often.
- I can be physically attracted to people. I might want to touch their breasts and/or kiss their lips. I don’t view kissing as sex, but it seems that lots of people view the desire to kiss someone as sexual attraction. One thing that helps me process this is the idea that there are many types of attraction; sensual, sexual, romantic, visual. I experience sensual attraction without knowing someone well. I also don’t always equate sensual attraction with romantic attraction; in high school I cuddled with my friends all the time, but didn’t have a crush on everyone I had a desire to cuddle with.
- I am very confused about what romance is. Society tells me it is related to sex, but, for me, it’s not. Society tells me that a desire to be sensual with someone is a desire to be in a romantic and therefore sexual relationship with them. It’s not! Society tells me that if I find someone physically attractive, I must want to sleep with them. I don’t! I often find people attractive, but that doesn’t usually mean I want to have sex with them. It typically means I see some mannerism or personality trait exhibited that leads me to want to get to know someone better. It means I want to feel close to them. It might have some sexual implications, such as a desire to kiss, but I don’t usually think about having sex with them.
You may have heard me use the word “pansexual” to describe myself. A more accurate word would be “panromantic” (I also use the word “queer”). I’m not very sexual, but I am romantic. I have crushes. But crush to me means something closer to “I want to get to know you better or have emotionally raw conversations with you, and maybe make out a little”, rather than “I want to sleep with you” or “I want to enter into a sexual relationship with you”. I use the word in a romantic sense; I have romantic feelings for someone on whom I have a crush. This article also helped me accept that I focus my attention in bed to intimacy and sensuality, but not necessarily sex.
It has taken me a long time to understand my sexuality. I want to be clear to all of my past sexual partners that you had no way of knowing that I was asexual. While I wish I had known so that we could have had a healthier relationship, I didn’t. The only bitterness I feel is toward society, because asexuality was not something I knew anything about; I hadn’t heard of it until a year ago. Let’s do better – let’s validate more experiences
Here is an article I referenced while trying to figure out my clearly nonconforming identity. The site has some great links and resources about demisexualism, which I first landed on as an identity before realizing I’m asexual. If you’re interested in learning more you can also check out this site about asexualism.
Last month, I was scheduled to testify as a character witness in a trial. Court was scheduled for 8:30 AM, and I was scheduled to testify after another witness. It takes a half hour to bike slowly from my house to the justice center (courthouse). At 8:00 AM I was getting on my bike, when I got a call saying I was needed immediately at the justice center. I said I was getting on my bike and would be there in a half hour. I needed the bike ride to move the anxiety of getting on the stand through my body, but the lawyer didn’t want to take any chances on me getting there late so an Uber was sent for me. I arrived at the justice center flustered and irritated that I had been rushed there in a polluting machine.
It’s common for people who primarily use cars to get around to offer rides and believe they can provide a resource to people who need that resource. What they don’t realize is that, for many of us, cars are not only unnecessary, but negative influences in our lives.
I bike for many reasons. It is extremely rare that I would even think about accepting a ride in a car. Here are some of the reasons I bike:
- Environmental destruction is so 20th-century. In most places I’ve been in the U.S., cars are the primary transportation method. Cars typically burn gasoline or diesel, which not only emits fossil fuels as it burns, it also pollutes the air, water, and land from where the oil used to make the gasoline or diesel is extracted. Destruction in the Amazon has forced indigenous populations from the jungle and led to the dissemination of entire peoples.[i] The oil industry is so strong that it took thousands of indigenous communities coming together to stop a pipeline from going through land without the consent of its inhabitants. I bike to minimize my contribution to these disastrous impacts on ecosystems and people.
- Biking keeps my body moving so I can process emotions. Different people like different settings for engaging in conflict. If my body is stationary it traps stress inside; I need to be moving to work through the stress. As someone who cares deeply about social justice, I spend a lot of time and energy on personal growth (resolving internal conflict) and interpersonal growth (resolving conflict involving those around me as well as myself). I need regular time to myself to let new information and ideas soak in and to develop opinions about them. Biking provides this time.
Biking also encourages my creative processes. Sometimes I write songs or poetry; much of my artwork is developed on a bicycle. I also engage in occasional public speaking; I write speeches and practice them while riding.
Mental health is important. While maintaining or achieving mental health looks different for all individuals, 28% of people who responded to the question I posed on Twitter about why people bike mentioned their own mental health. I know my mental health is improved when I bike because of a few reasons below (specifically #s 5-8), while a lot of it also has to do with having time to process emotions while moving.
- Sexism tells me I’m not strong but my bike experiences prove that to be false. There’s something extremely satisfying about seeing an athletic man’s jaw drop when I tell him I biked up a mountain with a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, and food loaded on the back of my bike (I do this a few times per year). Don’t get me wrong, the ride feels amazing too (see reason #8), but this section is about the joy I get from challenging the assumption that women are weak. I get a kick out of the ignorant disbelief that I can easily haul 300 pounds of food a few miles. Surprise! Take that, fragile masculine ego.
- My transportation mode is a simple machine that I do not have to dedicate lots of energy to fully understand. Its moving parts are generally easily visible and adjustable. Okay, I have degree in mechanical engineering, so my brain is practiced in understanding physics, but when compared to most machines that transport people, bikes are pretty simple. The pedals turn the crank, which is connected via the chain to the freewheel or cassette, which turns the wheel. The handlebars turn through bearings in the headset. The shifters, cables, and derailleurs, and brakes add a little more complexity to create a complete bike, functional with moving parts. It’s that simple. Beautiful.
- I have control over my bike and my schedule. My number one reason to bike is the environment. Carpooling and public transit have low but measurable environmental impacts, while they also involve dependence on someone else’s schedule. When I bike, I can arrive when I want, leave when I want, and take as long as I want in transit. I am in control of my speed and my path as well as my schedule.
- I don’t need to schedule exercise into my day, just commute time. In order to get enough exercise during my day, I just need to leave the house, because the transportation method I use doubles as an exercise method.
- Biking connects me to my surroundings. I understand what lies between where I am and where I came from. I value the effort of moving objects and lives. The breath at the top of the mountain feels more refreshing when I used my body to get there.
- Biking is exhilarating to me. This is very related to #7, but includes an element of freedom. If I even spend one day without getting on a bike, I feel so free the next time I am on a bike. I can feel the elements, which has always been exciting to me and helps me feel alive.
- Because I can. I have the privilege of being able to use my body, so I do. If I bike when I can, I show that it’s possible. People who would like to ride a bike but do not do it might feel more encouraged to give it a shot. I want to normalize biking. Doing it, writing about it, and talking about it make it more socially acceptable. I enjoy to ride and I can. Why wouldn’t I?
- It’s cheap. I eat whether or not I bike, so my fuel prices are negligible. I don’t have to pay for every ride, and I don’t have to throw much money down on maintenance. In fact, my transportation machine – decked out in extra accessories – plus annual maintenance, costs me less than I make in a month of underpaid, part-time work. It’s certainly affordable.
Please note that I have only communicated why I choose to bike. I posted a tweet asking why Twitter users bike. This was responded to by 25 people and resulted in 31 unique reasons for biking and 111 total responses; 28% of responses were unique, and there were more unique responses than there were respondents. Everyone has their own reasons. Here are four of the individual responses I got:
Now it’s your turn. Why do you bike? Post using the hashtag #WhyIBike. Better yet, take a friend on a bike ride!