And rightly so. That history begins with Columbus and his horrible treatment of the Indians in his lust for gold.
It continued in America with massacres and seizure of Native American lands. It concluded with Indian confinement to bleak and worthless reservations.
Robert Jensen, University of Texas journalism professor, is not a Native American. But for him Thanksgiving is a day of bitter reflection.
He sides with Native Americans who were destroyed because of Manifest Destiny. He sides with Indian holocaust victims.
“A growing number of white people have joined the indigenous people’s critique of the holocaust denial that is at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday,” Jensen writes. “A celebration of the European genocidal campaign is central to the creation of the United States.”
But he is not just concerned with the past. He rightly indicts America today as “intellectually dishonest, politically irresponsible and morally bankrupt.”
He acknowledges that America is “the most affluent and militarily powerful country” that ever existed. But he concludes with a grim prognosis: America “is falling apart, an empire in decline.”
America will not fall anytime soon. But the 21st century clearly belongs to China as the 20th century belonged to America.
Jensen dares to think what is unthinkable for most Americans. He puts his heart where his mind is.
Some of us intellectualize about the painful Native American history, influenced by “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown.
Brown cites the injustices and betrayals of the U.S. government in dealings with the Indians, the ruthlessness and greed of settlers.
He points out that Americans ruined Indian culture, way of life and religion. His indictment is summed up by the expression: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
But Jensen does something about his anguish. He does not celebrate Thanksgiving. Indeed, he spends it alone by choice, away from his family and many friends in Austin, Texas.
I’ve never met professor Jensen but I have corresponded with him by e-mail and read some of his books. The books make plain his great concern for humanity and his own profound humaneness.
In his “Citizens of the Empire,” Jensen pleads for Americans to “become human beings” and “struggle to claim their humanity.”
A vain hope. America is a terrible country. It worships money. "It has none of the laws and values of Old Europe,” as a former vice president contemptuously phrased it.
Nothing of substance has changed. Thoreau, in his great essay “Civil Disobedience,” denounced America for its covenant with slavery and unjust Mexican War.
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today?” Thoreau asked. “I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”
Grant Leneaux, a University of Nevada, Reno, language professor, is one-quarter Native American. He is a voting member of the Delaware Indian tribe, yet he says he cannot be as indignant as Jensen.
“I think Thanksgiving is one of the less commercialized celebrations and brings people together to enjoy good food and company,” Leneaux says. “I find Columbus Day and Christmas far more offensive. There is no Christ in Christmas.”
He celebrates Thanksgiving “as a kind of harvest festival” and an occasion for conviviality.
“Present this Thanksgiving will be my backsliding Baptist wife and her family, my Episcopalian daughter along with her atheist father and my Muslim friend with his lovely family," he said. "We will make no mention of God or the Pilgrims.”
Nevertheless, thanks to Jensen I will never see Thanksgiving quite the same way. He gave me an epiphany.
I have always enjoyed the family gatherings and always will. But I never thought of the historic disgrace. Now I will.
Anyone with a literary bent who has not read “Walden” sins against literature. “Walden” is more than a story of a man who spent 18 months at Walden pond. It’s a philosophy of life: “Simplify, simplify”… “No man ever stood lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes.” He borrowed an ax and returned it sharper than he received it.
Anyone with an intellectual bent who has not read “Civil Disobedience” sins against the intellect. Thoreau declares that it is “not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law so much as for the right.” He notes that citizens must never resign their consciences to legislators: “A corporation has no conscience.”
Jake Highton teaches journalism at UNR. You can reach him at email@example.com.