Is there anything better than the sound of a bustling kitchen, the scent of turkey roasting in the air and children laughing, free from the burdens of gender identity?
At least that what I tell my sister-in-law, as I urge her to let my nephew, Cody, watch Dora the Explorer instead of giving into the gender stereotypes permeating Go Diego Go. It seems obvious she should use the show as a tool for teaching Cody about the ‘explorers’ bravely making their way from South America in the migrant caravan — the people our racist president wants to kill.
Many Americans watch football on this national holiday, but with the culturally insensitive Redskins not on yet, my opportunities to bring some social justice perspective on the toxically masculine game are limited.
Still, the lack of racist football teams on TV can’t deter me from enjoying the one day of the year I get to inform my cis-family about who they really are from the safe space of my virtuous stance against Native American genocide.
As I walk into the family room the players have just gotten on to the field. I anxiously await the national anthem. Black lives will matter in this home today.
I brush aside my disappointment that the anthem isn’t being televised and quickly take a knee. ‘Dissent is the highest form of patriotism, dad,’ I remind my father who is aggressively wearing Reebok shoes, as if I don’t know what he is trying to say.
I finally tell them my boyfriend is black which they dutifully pretend not to care about. But my mom quickly lets her racial animosity slip. She has the audacity to ask me why my lover hasn’t come with me. ‘What you think he doesn’t have a family?’ I ask. ‘He has a father, mom. He doesn’t need your charity.’
A hint of compassion re-enters me as I witness my mother slaving away in the kitchen and dutifully setting the table. I remind her that her status as a foot-soldier to the patriarchy doesn’t forbid her from wearing Nikes. She shoves a plate of deviled eggs into my hands and asks me to put it on the table. I decline and take another knee. I have no obligation to contribute to the murder of millions of animals.
I’m vegan so I’ve brought black olive tapenade as my side. My grandma, who I assume is averse to anything at all of color, says she ‘hates black olives.’ It is as good a moment as any to let grandma know that she’s an ancient relic of a forgotten era of misogyny and racism. The fact that she can barely hear is an excellent excuse to say it as loudly as possible.
These moments are the little joys I hold on to as restitution for 18 years in a patriarchal prison. For 364 days of the year, I can only snack on the morsels of self-righteous indignation. But on every fourth Thursday in November, I feast.
What am I thankful for? The opportunity to judge this assortment of fascists all at once and cap it off with some pumpkin pie.
The opportunities to get my fix throughout the meal are virtually endless.
‘Could you pass the biscuits, Uncle Jed or are you too busy hating Muslims? I’ve seen your Facebook posts.’
‘Do you want sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes, Gretchen? Let me guess, sis, you want both. You know eventually you’re going to have to pick a side. Silence is violence.’
‘See how we’re all eating together? It’s called socialism, dad. Not everyone thinks homeless people should be tossed in landfills.’
Dad quickly grabs his throne at the head of the table and begins his ritualistic commune with an invisible misogynist in the sky. I cry the entire time, as loudly as I can.
But the tears subside after he finishes praying and I leap up in excitement. It is finally time for my speech. I glance around at my family members waiting for any of them to try to suppress me. They’re still a little timid after I brought the Portland chapter of Antifa to last year’s Thanksgiving. Mom still hasn’t scrubbed the anarchy symbol someone spray-painted on her grandfather clock.
As I prepare to offer the words they all need to hear, I seek out the one who needs to hear my words the most. Cody may only be five years old but he must be here for this.
I look Cody in the eyes (it’s important to make eye contact) and realize that this could be the moment that changes his life.
‘First of all, Cody,’ I begin, ‘I was so happy to find out you survived school so far this year. I’m not trying to scare you, Cody — but as long as people like your mother continues to support the NRA — your life is in danger.’
Amy doesn’t even make eye contact. Not so brave without her military-style assault weapon, is she?
‘But Cody, do you know what else is in danger besides vulnerable minorities and our rainforests? Democracy. You see democracy didn’t die in darkness, Cody It died in broad daylight on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, November 6, 2018. Each of the people at this table with the exception of me, your aunt Lauren … who loves you very much despite your privilege… each of them participated in destroying your future and enshrining our shameful past.
‘Do you know about your past, Cody? I’m sure your school has already started feeding you imperial propaganda about Native Americans and white settlers breaking bread. In truth, the only thing that was broken was the backs of their people under the boots of your ancestors. And since that genocidal lie began, white families have gathered together to offer thanks for all the blessings they stole…and for smallpox.’
At this moment I notice that Cody doesn’t appear to be listening. White cis-gendered males never listen, but nevertheless, I persist.
‘They don’t want you to know the truth, Cody, but your aunt Lauren does. She wants you to shed your privilege and to stop raping people.
‘Do you know what rape is, Cody? Brett Kavanaugh does. And so do the Native American peoples indigenous to these lands who are finally getting representation in the state of Massachusetts.
‘But democracy can be restored, Cody. As long as you can accept that you’re a privileged racist rapist. I mean, unless you identify as a woman, in which case you’re a victim. As long as you vote the right way. Look, it’s complicated, Cody.
‘But it’s not too late for you, Cody. You don’t have to grow up to be a mass shooter.
‘Although, if your grandparents continue to eat beef and drive fossil fuel burning cars, you’re going to be dead in 10 years anyway. Climate change is real, Cody and it’s going to murder you.
‘Anyway, I’m sorry, Cody. I’m sorry this family, except me, failed you.
‘And while Papa’s chat with the imaginary guy in the sky involved lots of thank yous for lots of things, make no mistake — every thank you was for the privilege of being white.’
Suddenly Cody pipes up and says that isn’t what Thanksgiving is about. ‘But Aunt Lauren, I thought Thanksgiving was about being grateful, like I am grateful for you!’
I’m literally shaking.
Is this five-year-old mansplaining to me? I quickly make a mental note. This one is going in the podcast for sure.
After my family intervenes to prevent Cody from further intimidating me, I reflect on his words. And if I’m being honest, Cody is right. Well, at least about me and other enlightened people.
For those of us who are more evolved, Thanksgiving isn’t about being thankful for whiteness and systemic privilege. It’s about celebrating the efforts of educated and cultured people to civilize barbaric savages over a table full of food.
In other words, it’s about my chance to let my Trump-supporting family know they’re destroying America because they’re afraid of brown people.
And despite the two dozen tweets I sent out talking about how much I hate Thanksgiving, I admit: it’s my favorite holiday.