I’ve always liked Thanksgiving. It’s not because of a fictionalized history, Charlie Brown specials, or football (although I enjoy rooting against the Cowboys). It is because, unlike Christmas, it’s celebrated across religions, as well as secularly. You aren’t judged as naughty or nice by a fictional endomorph, and it hasn’t descended into crass commercialism as happens after midnight.
Yes, I know that I may be a tiresome beacon of political correctness by pointing out that there is no decoupling of imperialism or colonialism from the mythology. Yet, I am still able to focus on the meaning of giving thanks and set aside a day to consider the privileges I have had bestowed on me.
Even if you’re not thankful, an excuse to have a meal with friends or family can be an enjoyable experience. I’d also like to note that Thanksgiving didn’t become an official holiday until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln made it so, a few months before the Gettysburg Address. Hence, it’s official designation as a holiday is not purely pilgrim-based.
This year is a bit different and more difficult than any other Thanksgiving. There has been more suffering this year — of all kinds, especially here in New York — than any year in my lifetime. From the COVID-19 pandemic directly, the economic impact it’s had, and police killings and brutality towards unarmed people of color, it’s nearly impossible to list all the forms of suffering that 2020 has brought.
However, what I’m thankful for is that the future is not already determined as much of this suffering, especially the economic variety, is within our control. Figuring out what to be thankful for also allows one to determine what we need to improve upon. We lack a sufficient social safety net that makes housing, food, and healthcare guaranteed and not some side effect of privilege.
With that in mind, I have to say, despite losses in the House of Representatives, I am thankful for this year’s electoral results. I don’t know if it’s due to multiple Thanksgivings spent arguing about him, but I am thankful that the country has decided we weren’t thankful for Donald Trump. On the state level, I’m thankful that we’ve decided that, despite fear-mongering from groups like the Police Benevolent Association, we can be thankful for Democratic supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate. (I am, however, mindful that the previous could be used against me if the supermajorities don’t use their power to help New Yorkers.)
I am also personally thankful for having a job, a home, food, and shelter, but this should not be a unique circumstance. While it’s nice that people will act philanthropically and donate money, volunteer food, time, and turkeys this Thanksgiving, we need policies that would erase such need. Martin Luther King Jr said that, while acknowledging philanthropy as “commendable,” we cannot look past “the circumstances of economic injustice that make philanthropy necessary.”
Thanksgiving is one day of the year, and I hope anyone reading this enjoys their day. However, if we carry Dr. King’s understanding with us and safely and widely distribute a vaccine, we’ll have a lot more to be thankful for next year.
Mike Racioppo is the District Manager of Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 and has been an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College. Follow him on Twitter @RacioppoMike.