Today I’m very excited to be celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. Back when ‘89 was the number, I was not feeling this holiday at all. I was working with Black Panthers trying to free Geronimo Pratt, playing Public Enemy and Poor Righteous Teachers all day and reading anything I could find by Dr. John Henrik Clarke and Dr. Ivan VanSertima. At that time, I saw Thanksgiving as a celebration of White supremacist ideals and actions. I didn’t care about Plymouth Rock, I cared about Planet Rock.
Fast forward about a decade and my son “The Young Lion”, is in kindergarten. As part of his weekly reading assignment he brings home a children’s book on Christopher Columbus. Unflattering caricatures of passive, goofy Native Americans mock the tragedy of the truth behind the murder of millions of America’s only original inhabitants. I took the book from my son, and put a post-it on the cover and sent it back. The post-it said: “If you want to give my son a history book, I’m OK with that. If you want to give my son a fairytale, I’m OK with that. But never give my son a fairytale and tell him that it’s history. “
My wife, a very proud and knowledgeable Black woman was concerned. “He’s one of the only Black kids at this school. I think this could be a mistake” she said with a mothers love.
“I don’t care. If she’s doesn’t like it me and the teacher can talk it out” was my response. I felt like an S1W waiting to be deployed into action.
As I walked up the school path to pick up The Young Lion the next day, his teacher walked up to me and kindly pulled me to the side. Instinctively the hair on my arms stood up. I’m ready to throw Plymouth Rock back on her. I’m about to channel the spirit of Chuck D and bring the noise.
With her very gentle blueish grey eyes and an honest face she says “I’m very sorry The Young Lion got that book. Our school library is low on funds and we get books only by donation. We don’t always get to review each book that comes in due to the volume. We are just happy to get something new for the kids. I want you to know that I have removed the book from the library and you had every right to be angry with the content.”
I realized at that point that she wasn’t carrying Plymouth Rock around, I was. What was I supposed to say?
“Thank you. I appreciate you understanding my position” I said with a smile. It was over.
Every person in every institution is not against authentic cultural education of American children. When The Young Lion was in the 3rd grade he reminded a teacher who celebrated standard Thanksgiving propaganda about the delivery of smallpox in blankets Native Americans. The teacher was uncomfortable about that fact, but he did not deny it.
In the end, the pain of the genocide of Native Americans and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade are just as real as my love for my family. I can love the country I’m in and still hate how we got here. I can teach the truth of the horror behind this day, but still enjoy the power of perseverance of its descendants. Happy Thanksgiving.