The Other Columbus: Turning over Thanksgiving tables

Scott Woods
Thanksgiving spread

I stopped celebrating Thanksgiving when I was about 21 years old.

I was deep into a burgeoning life of Black militancynot quite at my peak, but getting there. I was so militant that my crew didn’t even go to the Million Man March in 1995 because it had too many Black people with ties on, a sure sign that the movement would be co-opted in some way. Part of the deal was that you didn’t celebrate European holidays, especially the ones built on the deaths of millions of Indigenous people: Columbus Day, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. (My particular crew never quite resolved what I was supposed to do on St. Patrick’s Day considering I was one-eighth Irish, but since I didn’t drink there wasn’t much to protest. We were pragmatic revolutionaries, if nothing else.) It wasn't unlike all of the social media stand-offs you’re seeing now by random woke people. We just didn’t have a marketing platform back then.

Suffice it to say, Thanksgivings were a riot.

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My family was not particularly close. We were mostly a holiday congregation. So for a few rough years in my 20s, everyone would come over to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving while I remained holed up downstairs in my room, not greeting anyone or partaking of the meal. I had to be sure to use the restroom before people started showing up, because once coats started to hit the guest room bed, no one would come down to see me and I would not go upstairs to see them. I was a veritable black sheep.

This went on for a fistful of years until I decided to call a truce. What changed was that my grandmothers, whom I loved, began to get old. I don’t mean “become senior citizens” they always seemed like that to my young eyes. I mean “old” as in wondering if each holiday that passed might be their last. And so, one year, I decided to come out of the basement and spend time with my people and not dwell on the reason for the gathering.

I was not surrendering my political stake, but committing an act of love. And once nieces and a nephew entered the mix, I wanted to be present for them, as well. The truce had to be drawn up by me because I was the one making the formation of middle ground impossible, and it is not healthy to see yourself as better than people you love. Even if my position to not attend holiday functions had stood, it could not stand on the stump of hubris.

So I don’t technically celebrate Thanksgiving, but I do celebrate my family, and my family gets together on Thanksgivings. Not this year, of course, but any other time. This year every reasonable person gets to experience Thanksgiving the way militant Scott did back in the ’90s: locked away in your home and quarantined from a good time. Enjoy the potato salad, and don’t forget to take a plate.