On the vital importance of modeling an inclusive national community—and a couple specific ways to support that work.
I’ve written before, in a post on how Rush Limbaugh uses Thanksgiving to present a largely false and entirely propagandistic narrative of history, about some of the myths and realities of our collective memories of the holiday. But however simplified the elementary school stories of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a holiday meal, I would stress one exemplary side to that image: it presents an originating vision of an inclusive national community, one defined by multiple cultures coming together and creating something new out of that connection. Too many of our collective narratives of American identity are dependent on exclusion instead, a process that likewise began with the Pilgrims (as in William Bradford’s description of “First Encounter,” the violent conflict with Native Americans that marks the outset of the Pilgrim community in direct opposition to those “others”). The inclusive vision can’t and doesn’t mean eliding our memories of those exclusionary trends and their oppressive effects for communities like Native Americans, but it means likewise remembering—and celebrating—the moments and ways we’ve modeled a more shared national community instead.
In our own moment, the exclusionary national narrative seems ascendant in both specific and overarching ways, making it that much more important that we emphasize and support more inclusive spaces and communities. I can think of few specific contemporary histories that echo and extend the worst sides of our exclusionary past more clearly than the violence directed at the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. The pipeline’s destruction of Standing Rock sacred land itself reflects an exclusion of this community and its spiritual and social concerns from our collective narratives; but the casual violence and brutality with which officials have responded to the protests, and the relative lack of mass media attention to that violence, represent additional layers to an exclusionary vision of Standing Rock. So a first step in modeling an inclusive vision of community would be simply to engage more fully and collectively with what’s happening at Standing Rock, as we should any American place and community experiencing such horrors. And then we could take that engagement further and turn it into more direct action, such as in the options highlighted in this recent piece on methods of registering collective protest and solidarity with the Standing Rock activists and community.
On the more overarching level, the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election has seen numerous prominent exclusionary attitudes and actions: from the surge in hate crimes against minorities of all kinds to the nomination of overt white supremacists such as Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions to key administration positions. One central thread of these contemporary exclusions has been directed at immigrants, from Trump’s promise to immediately deport “two to three million” undocumented Americans to his surrogate’s use of Japanese internment as a “precedent” for the creation of a registry of Muslim arrivals and Americans. While of course I would argue that a better understanding of our histories of exclusion and immigration would help challenge this contemporary exclusion, it’s also vital that we more actively support efforts and organizations to help immigrant communities. Many of the organizations highlighted on this site do vital work and are well worth your time and support; I would point to this specific organization, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), as one such effort. This list likewise includes a number of wonderful organizations, such as the National Immigration Law Center. And finally, Jose Antonio Vargas’ EmergingUS site and hashtag models collective conversations about how we define this more inclusive vision of American community.
I’m thankful for all these organizations and efforts, and for all of us working to remember, celebrate, and support an inclusive vision of America, now more than ever.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Happy Thanskgiving!
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