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Thanksgiving, White Supremacy, and the Dark Side of Eugenics: What You Need to Know

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Eugenics was a powerful and dangerous ideology that played a significant role in shaping history, particularly in the way it influenced the treatment of marginalized groups like Indigenous peoples and people of colour. But what is eugenics, and why is it important in the context of Thanksgiving? In this blog post, we'll explore the connection so we're more cognizant this Thanksgiving of who, what and how we should be celebrating.

What is eugenics and why does it matter?

The history of eugenics is entrenched in white supremacy and has played a major role in the development of many cultures. Throughout history, marginalized groups have been subjected to eugenic practices that aimed to eliminate or reduce their numbers through campaigns of violence and terror.

One example is the history of Indigenous peoples in North America, whose lands were colonized by European settlers. Beginning with Columbus's invasion in 1492, Indigenous communities were subject to massacres and other forms of violence as part of a concerted effort by European colonialists to eliminate them and take over their land. This practice was justified through the ideologies of eugenics and scientific racism, which emphasized white supremacy and the superiority of European culture over all others. Native Americans were seen as inferior and undeserving of respect or rights.

Through this violent history, we can see how eugenics has led to the erasure and domination of other cultures, highlighting the dangerous social attitudes at its core.

What is modern-day eugenics?

Today, the dark legacy of eugenics persists in many different forms — from reproductive technologies used to select certain traits in parents' children to measures designed to eliminate entire racial or ethnic groups.

Eugenics and scientific racism refer to the ideologies and practices that stem from the belief that the white Europeans are a superior race to all others. This belief, historically used as a justification for violence and discrimination against non-white groups, continues to shape our society today, justifying discrimination and violence against people from marginalized groups, including people of colour, immigrants, Indigenous peoples, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other historically oppressed communities. Consequently, it is crucial to consider historical events in the context of eugenics to understand its continued negative impact on our society.

What is the connection between Thanksgiving and eugenics?

Thanksgiving is often celebrated as a time of harvest and gratitude, but it also has a history rooted in eugenics. This is because the traditional celebration of thanksgiving was closely linked to the ideology and practices of eugenics, which sought to eliminate or dominate Indigenous cultures in North America.

Thanksgiving originated from the history of colonialism and European conquest in North America. In particular, Thanksgiving commemorates the coming together over a feast of the European settlers and the Wampanoag peoples— Native Americans who formerly occupied what is now known as Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

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However, the mass murder of Indigenous people at the hands of European colonists — a history that continues to have devastating impacts on Native communities today — is rarely discussed. In reality, the harvest feast commemorated by Thanksgiving occurred following a brutal campaign of violence and terror and marked the start of a treaty between the two groups. This treaty lasted for a little over 50 years, until King Phillip's War, which is widely considered to be the largest conflict of the colonial era in North America, with many Indigenous lives lost during the conflict.

In this sense, we can see how the history of Thanksgiving is deeply connected to eugenics and its legacy of racism, violence, and oppression. To truly confront this history, we must recognize that celebrations like Thanksgiving are not innocent traditions but are instead rooted in a history that is harmful and destructive for many marginalized groups.

This isn't about erasing history or changing traditions but acknowledging the true version of historical events and the legacies that continue to affect marginalized communities today. As discussed in a recent session on inclusive leadership, full responsibility is the only way to win with a diverse team. Understanding who is in the room and how history has shaped our society and its downfalls is the beginning of our ability to do something about it.

We can only work towards a more just future for all people by recognizing these connections, acknowledging them, and taking steps to ensure that history does not continue to repeat itself. We address such topics in our workshops and trainings because "if there is to be reconciliation, first there must be truth", said Timothy B. Tyson, American writer and historian.

Let's get to the truth together and chart a new path for your team today. Reach out for a complimentary call to determine your next steps.

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