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Posts Tagged ‘genocide’

Thank You, Chronic Pain

In Chronic Pain, Creative Writing, Philosophical Musings on November 22, 2012 at 11:27 PM

Since my spell of chronic pain began last year, I’ve had to come to terms with some harsh realities.

I will likely never be able to take a fast, quick run on the treadmill without wondering if my head will explode. I will likely never be able to escape from frequent medical visits to ensure that my health is “stable.” For all I know, I may never again have another alcoholic drink, hike a steep mountain, enjoy a late night party, or go on a date.

This isn’t me trying to cast an overly pessimistic spin on a day I’m supposed to be “thankful.” In fact, my sense of gratitude for life has expanded tremendously since I was hit hard by the limitations of my condition(s) and the death of my brother last year.

Yes, living with pain sucks…but it has also thrown in me new directions I would never have entertained. It has forced me to accept my humanness, to see my abilities and limitations with an entirely new pair of eyes.

I am often awed by the impressive machinery that is the human body (its complexity and self-healing capabilities) as well as by the ubiquitously enigmatic mind. I’m continuously humbled by the expansive mysteries of this Universe and the resilience of the human species.  Yes, living with pain has taught me a lot.

That said, I’ve pondered the meaning of “thankfulness” in a world that has pain and wonder if my thoughts will resonate with anyone else.

“Pain” is itself a term that can be conceptualized and packaged in many ways, but however we choose to define it, it’s clear that we live in a world incredibly damaged by pain: the pain of war, the pain of genocide, the pain of past and present, the pain of brutal conquest, slaughter, and slavery.

I can delve deeply into the histories of colonized and destroyed societies, of broken families and cultural groups, of lonely, pain-ridden martyrs. I think, for instance, of the genocidal colonization of the Americas that reduced the populations of Indigenous peoples from 70-100 million to 12 million within the first century of colonization and conquest (the 1500s).

I think of the 50 million or more Africans who were killed or forcibly removed through the slave trade during the initial centuries of Western imperial expansion in the “discovery” age.

I think of the millions of people today who contend with air bombing, displacement, and tyranny in places such as Gaza, Afghanistan, Syria, and yes, even the ever-so-powerful “Western” nations. (The United States, for instance, has the highest GDP spending on weapons of mass destruction, one of the highest-per-capita incarceration rates in the world, as well as an economic inequality index that should make us all shake our heads in exasperation. One need only look at which residents of New York City are still battling for basic necessities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy)

However, knowing the merciless violence perpetrated in our past is not enough: it is important to recognize how the pain of our ancestors continues to live with us today.

Many of us understand the role that racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and other systems of oppression play in our collective dehumanization.

However, what’s often not understood is how we perpetuate these oppressions in our daily practices. We are complacent when we are left thinking that these violent oppressions are part of a detached past of which we are not to blame (perhaps our less-informed ancestors, but not us). We are complacent when we imagine racism and sexism as “issues” that were overcome in the past–and if they still exist, it’s because of the ignorance of “others” for which we cannot be held liable.

Such moral detachment doesn’t help ameliorate the “issues”–really, the persistent violence–that we see in the world today. Whether we speak of the Black underclass or the “feminization of poverty,” whether we speak of inequitable access to quality education, jobs, and health care or the fight for political representation, the real “issue” we must confront is the historical reality of power–who has it and how it’s used.

“Privilege” talk is helpful only if it engages in a radical re-reading of how power operates in our day-to-day social world. And that means acknowledging those upon whose blood and sweat we’ve come to enjoy our material goods.

So, today, in recognizing that “Thanksgiving” is not a holiday that emerged from the “coming together” of grateful European colonizers and Indigenous Americans, I’ve decided to use this time to redefine the meaning of “thanksgiving.”

While I don’t adhere to a particular religion, I feel many wouldn’t argue with the essence of these basic points, which also befits the Buddhist practices of mindfulness and loving-kindness.

  • Expressing gratitude should not be a once-a-year practice. We should make “thanksgiving” a daily practice, which we can display by consistent kindness to others and  recognizing that not everyone shares our privileges (e.g. having a place to live, living without fear of murderous attacks of war, etc.) Their pain is our pain is the Universe’s pain.
  • Coming together with our friends and family should not necessitate a special holiday. If we’re given the time off, we should make use of it, and if it’s a “good excuse” to meet with friends and family, do so.
  • If we’re in the spirit of “giving thanks,” we should thank the people whose land we stole, the people whose labor power enabled us to have food in our refrigerators and on our plates, the animals whose lives we had to slaughter to fatten our bellies.

May peace and love reign in our hearts. May ignorance and greed not cloud our eyes to the world around us. May we overcome the pain of our past without inflicting pain on others in the present. May we have courage to live with our eyes open, and our minds and bodies ready for the revolution. 

Hasta la victoria, siempre. 

Thanksgiving and the Native American Holocaust

In Decolonization, Educational Justice, Geography/ Spatial Justice, History, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on November 20, 2012 at 4:00 AM

I recently started reading a revolutionary classic that revamped the world’s popular understanding of U.S. history: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Published in 1980, the book  was meant to tell the story of the United States from the perspective of the disenfranchised, from the people whose blood and toil created the governments, institutions, and physical structures that we often equate with “progress.” I wonder why it took me so long to start this book, but I was drawn to it recently because of our impending holiday.

Given my recent life experiences, I am all for an explicit expression of gratitude. But I am of the opinion that giving “thanks” should be a quotidian practice, something that is interwoven into our daily habits the way brushing our teeth and saying “good morning” to our neighbors and co-workers have become innocuously habituated. With respect to the importance of “giving thanks,” I am completed supportive of it… but one must ask why a special day is needed for this practice. In a world of violent material inequalities and war-related savagery (consider the U.S.-supported air strikes against non-militants in Gaza and Afghanistan), doesn’t the necessity of a day of giving thanks not reek of First World cultural elitism and token appreciation? How would the majority of our planet’s residents feel about the excessive cultural commodification imbued in this country’s “holiday,” with its short-term gathering of air-mile-flying passive aggressive family members who then disperse to continue their mindless practices of material consumption (for instance, consider the meaning of Black Friday)?

Chief Seattle

A statue of Chief Seattle, an indigenous leader for whom the largest Northwestern city is named.

This, however, is only a minor aside to the more egregious point: the failure of (North) Americans to recognize how our presence in this land was founded upon the displacement and genocide of millions of First Nation (Native American) peoples. As Zinn writes in his book, the purpose of raising awareness about the Native American Holocaust is not to simply accuse, judge, and condemn the incredible misery and bloodshed perpetrated by European colonizers. Understanding our true history is about making sense of how we got here, living in a globe of vast inequalities, and how many of us blindly benefit  from a legacy of genocide and destruction.  As one writer puts it, “celebrating Thanksgiving is as if Germany had a day of celebration for the Holocaust. Thanksgiving is the American Holocaust.”

The “quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress” is a practice that must end–but not simply for the purpose of extracting a history lesson that we can then use to claim we’ve “come far.” Such a dismissive disposition towards the atrocities committed on American land simply fail to understand the workings of legacy and the continual violence perpetrated against First Nations today. Rather than showcasing a worthless “overemphasis” on the past, rejecting the “quiet acceptance” of genocide is a practice in mindfulness: that is, using our awareness to understand how the pain of our past perpetuates through the sufferings of today. Though it may seem like a mere exercise in understanding social history, it also about recognizing our true humanity–to recognize our abilities to hate and murder but also to transcend these evils to create peace, love, and harmony. 

To be clear, I am not suggesting that people give up Thanksgiving as a hopelessly evil, imperialist project. Instead, we can reinvent Thanksgiving as a time for transformative healing, a time to spread mindfulness and genuine gratitude in a manner that does not contribute to the continual silencing of “shameful” histories.

At the end of the day, we are all agents capable of transforming the world. If we take understanding our history seriously (as we should), it can become a brutal process that requires the courage to accept our faults and misunderstandings. It can be difficult to accept how our privileges are based on the brutal oppression of others (past or present). However, this process is one we must all collectively share, for decolonizing our hearts and minds is not simply about our egos. It is about creating the world of loving kindness we all need.

The American Holocaust of Native Americans

For a concise 101 introduction to the genocide of Native people, you can see this 30 minute documentary with tell-tale interviews.

The Story of Leonard Peltier, a Native American (AIM) activist

I highly recommend learning–and educating students about–this Native activist and current political prisoner. Peltier is a Lakota who was highly active with the anti-colonial, anti-imperial resistance of the American Indian Movement (AIM). As with many revolutionary groups active in the late 1960s/early ’70s, AIM made crucial connections with Black Panthers and other groups fighting for liberation. Unfortunately, as with others persecuted by the FBI’s COINTEL program, Peltier was scapegoated and imprisoned on charges of murder for which he is still (after nearly 40 years) imprisoned.

Cartographies of an Ongoing Colonization

**For an interactive map that showcases how Native land was stolen over the centuries, see: A Map of Destruction **


A map of First Nation reservations, from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Parks Service. Contrary to the views of dominant amerikkan society, First Nations still hold sovereignty over many lands, albeit considerably (and tragically) less than what they’re entitled to. And contrary to public opinion, indigenous Americans are still persecuted by the government today.


Colonization is characterized by the stealing of land from a sovereign nation. Can you see what is left of indigenous-owned lands in the heart of empire (continental united states)? And can you see what lands remain to indigenous Palestinians?


Rendered cartography of pre-columbian First Nation / Native American civilizations

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