Thanksgiving/Thanks-taking and privilege
One year ago, during the week before Thanksgiving (or Thanks-taking as I prefer to call it), I mentioned the holiday to my daughter and told her that we were going up to our cousins’ and would sleep over at their house.
I gave my then two-and-a-half-year-old daughter a brief summary:
“Thanksgiving is a holiday we celebrate to give thanks for the things we have, like food and shelter, as well as for other rights and freedoms…but while we are giving thanks, we also have to remember that not everybody has the same rights and freedoms (or food or shelter). So, we have to keep fighting so that everyone has both their basic needs met and the same rights.”
At the time, I had made a conscious decision not to impart the history of European migration and Native American genocide to my two-and-a-half year old. I strongly felt the need to send a bigger message about Thanksgiving, but at the same time, wanted to tell this story without exposing her to extreme violence.
My daughter listened intently and asked, “Yo tengo derechos, Mamma?” she asked. (Do I have rights, Mamma?)
“Yes,” I told her, wondering if she knew what “derechos” were. “You do, but we don’t live in a perfect world and there are some situations where you might not have as many rights as someone else. For example, sometimes women don’t have the same rights as men, and sometimes people who speak a different language might not have the same rights.”
I felt a pang of sadness, knowing that my daughter will grow up to be a woman who makes 75 cents on the dollar, among other discriminatory practices and disadvantages.
On this day, which followed the day of the Ferguson non-indictment, I also felt enormous compassion for the parents of African American children, for having to communicate injustices that impact them so personally.
A minute or two later, she asked, seemingly out of the blue, “Abu tiene derechos?” (Does Grandpa have rights?)
“Yes,” I told her, “He has rights.” I paused for a second.
“Alex tiene derechos?” she continued, asking me about a friend at school, a White boy.
“Yes,” I affirmed.
“Jessi tiene derechos?” now asking about another friend, a Black girl.
I paused, heart-broken by the idea of telling her that little Jessi didn’t have as many “rights” as she did.
I realized that while I had used the word “derechos” (rights) in Spanish, I would have used the word “privilege” in English. So I changed my language…
“I think a better way to think about this is privilege, not rights,” I told her. “We all have basic rights, but some people have more privileges than others and we have to work together to try to change that.”
The conversation abruptly ended, leaving me feeling like I had piled too much complicated stuff into it (and that it hadn’t gone spectacularly).
A year later, my three-and-a-half-years-old is interested in maps, often asking where California, Argentina, and China are located (the various places where relatives of hers are living at the moment).
With geography now as a starting point, I rehearsed a revised story for her this year:
“A long time ago, a group of White people called the Pilgrims came from Europe to what we now call the United States. They came here because they didn’t have freedoms where they lived and it wasn’t fair. So the Pilgrims gave “thanks” because they had the opportunity to have freedoms here that they hadn’t had before. And that is why we call this holiday ‘Thanksgiving.’
But, there were other people already living here called Native Americans or American Indians. Over time, more and more White people came here and ended up hurting the Native Americans. So in the end, the Pilgrims got their freedoms, but the American Indians lost those same freedoms.
Today, there are still a lot of people who don’t have access to the same freedoms and privileges that the Pilgrims came to the United States to find. The goal is that everyone should have these freedoms and privileges but not everyone does. For example, people who are White have more privileges than people who are Black.” (Future posts will discuss privilege more concretely…and I encourage anyone who has discussed specific privileges that they experience to submit these stories as a guest blogger!)
Whenever I watch the Thanksgiving Day parade, I am keenly aware of omissions on the part of TV reporters (of all races) with regard to both US history and our present-day reality of double standards. It always seems like it is more “comfortable” to ignore these truths as we sit down to eat turkey.
But as a parent, I don’t want to ignore these truths—I want to expose them for my daughter. And the first step is talking about privilege.
Click here to watch a three minute video from Upworthy that can help explain privilege to a three-year-old. Watch together and discuss the history of Thanksgiving with your child—and let the Raising Race Conscious Children Community know what connections you make by contributing a comment below.
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn. Sachi identifies as White and is a mother to a three-year-old daughter and newborn son.