Ten days before America was due to celebrate one of its largest, “historically-earned” and commercialized holidays, I made the decision to sit this year’s Thanksgiving out and fast.
Raised in a Black household, I just knew I was going to get clowned for this one.
“More candy yams for us then, enjoy your fast!” one of my closest friends wrote below the Facebook post I made announcing the decision. I clicked reply almost by way of some digital reflex, ready to engage in a war of words about the beloved Thanksgiving’s less delicious side that doesn’t quite make it to America’s holiday scrapbook.
I’d later learn that just as I forfeited those cinnamon-y candy yams my stomach churned for, my restraint from defending what the rest of America wouldn’t understand was another assignment in learning the convention of sacrifice. After all, I didn’t really owe an explanation to anyone.
And considering the explanation, or lack thereof, that America has for terrorizing indigenous people with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons while it pours blessing over a holiday that marks the genocide of that same community, I didn’t feel so defeated after all.
At 9 a.m., it was almost as if my natural body clock came with a body calendar feature as well. I never wake up hungry, yet before smelling fresh macaroni and cheese or the succulent ham’s steam slipping from the oven’s crevices, my stomach was thundering. It knew what day it was. But so did my head and this year, I adamantly chose to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
News and coverage of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protection of sacred land and resources from a pipeline approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been dwindling. The few updates I did see were tucked lightly inside of Twitter and Facebook timelines. But Thanksgiving memes (#younameit!), flicks of heaping dinner plates and clips from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade quickly washed them out. I continued praying, reminding myself that I was stronger than any plate of food. But it was the idea of missing out on a day that I’ve only known to be a family-oriented celebration that tempted me far more than the perfume of collard greens, upside-down pineapple cake and sausage stuffing.
As the day went on and 6 p.m. neared, I began feeling light-headed. The migraine that set in came along with a new feeling of frustration. What will my refusal to eat do for those people? I wondered as my mother and sisters sat at the table only a few feet from me, laughing at impromptu conversations and forking my favorite food into their mouths. Tomorrow, I’ll still have to eat the food that I fasted from today. I didn’t donate or go out and stand in freezing cold weather with Standing Rock. Was this a pretty pointless idea after all?
But at 12:02 a.m., when I was finally ready to recompensate my stomach, I realized that sacrifice is never pointless. Sacrifice is the catalyst behind any pact of solidarity and it’s the key thing that nearly every ally to movements of oppressed communities has missed. We ask white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege and cisgendered privilege to make sacrifices every day. To pass the torch of unfair advantages to marginalized communities whenever they do reap benefits that are undeserving to them. Just as donations are sacrifices of money or protests are sacrifices of time and (and sometimes safety), a Thanksgiving fast was my sacrifice.
It was not “lazy.”
It was not “pointless.”
It was a silent ode to the indigenous people of America, their abandoned culture and their forgotten ancestors. It was my way of reminding my family and friends, who consequently looked up the Dakota Access Pipeline and began their own lessons of self-enlightenment, that we have more in common with other marginalized communities than we realize.
I didn’t fast for Thanksgiving. I fasted against it.
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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