Who is Missing From the Story?

Mom, the first Thanksgiving lasted three days and the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims and they had a big feast to celebrate their friendship! 

National Day of Mourning plaque in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Well… Yes, kind of. I responded as we drove down the road. I hesitated, wondering if I should continue the story. If we should talk about our history of genocide and the thanksgiving feasts that celebrated the destruction of native societies.

Last week, one of our pastors texted that she was going to hear Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney speak and wondered if I wanted to join her. We’re coming off of a few weeks of busyness and I wondered if it was a good idea to head downtown for the conversation. I’ve been a longtime fan of Dr. Gafney on Twitter and have been meaning to read her newest book, A Womanist Midrash for a year so decided it was worth it.

It’s been just about a week-and-a-half since I got back from the RubyWoo Pilgrimage and I’ve been sorting through all the thoughts and ideas that started to germinate in those five days of learning and conversation. On the outside, I returned to my normal routine of school, volunteering, and all the daily tasks that keep our life humming. But my lens has sharpened. I’m looking at the narratives we’re telling our girls and ourselves and am remembering to ask, Who is missing from the story? Whose story needs to be told?

When we were on Ellis Island, we walked through an exhibit called The Peopling of America… it started in 1520. What?! What about the people who nurtured and cared for America’s land long before the first Europeans landed on these shores? A panel or two was dedicated to Native Americans but more as a sidenote in history rather than the genocide our ancestors committed.

Later, we had lunch with Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis at Middle Collegiate Church, the oldest continuous church in the United States. After our inspiring lunch, we got a quick tour of the sanctuary where Tiffany stained glass windows told biblical stories. Most of these Middle Eastern characters are shown as white in these windows, except for one. I don’t remember the process but the church decided to add darker backlighting to the face of Jesus, making his skin tone a truer representation of the man who lived in ancient Palestine.

Who is missing from the story?

On Sunday, Dr. Gafney talked about how changing the narrative is going to make people very uncomfortable. We like our ancient stained glass windows and childhood Bible stories. But those aren’t true. Dr. Gaftney offered gracious ways of taking small steps toward inclusion – what if we hang banners between our windows, depicting a truer interpretation without completely destroying the past? What if we change our communion loaf to a bread whose color represents that of Christ who we remember?

Going to hear Dr. Gafney was the best way for me to round out that first week of reentry after the Pilgrimage. Her words solidified some of my biggest takeaways.

I’m not sure how these ideas will play out in my life but I know that for now, I can talk with Bea about the Wampanoag story missing from our school Thanksgiving retelling. I want her to feel safe questioning our history together. I can look at my own book choices and notice who is missing from the narrative. I can keep my mind open to ways in which I have embraced a comfortable yet inaccurate narrative.

As we look toward our Thanksgiving celebration, I want to be careful. We will be thankful as a family and we’ll eat all of the foods that we only eat this time of year. But we’ll also pause to remember the rest of the story. We’ll hang our banner beside the stained glass already here, adding a more complete narrative to our history.

Looking for a place to start?

Check out ManyHoops.com, a website devoted to creating a more complete Thanksgiving story. Coloring pages, recipes, traditional prayers, and history are all included.

Also check out Decolonizing Thanksgiving, a way to combat racism in school environments.

What about you? How are you remembering a fuller narrative this Thanksgiving?

2 thoughts on “Who is Missing From the Story?

  1. Annie, maybe when Bea’s in 4th or 5th grade have her read “Sign of the Beaver”. I just read it with my 5th grade class and discussed with them how the white Europeans stole the land from the Native Americans.

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