By Cheryl Smith
I’ve always heard that one man’s Heaven is another’s hell. While one group is celebrating Juneteenth, the other side was bemoaning the ending of slavery. That’s pretty much the way it is with Thanksgiving.
Now, November is significant for a number of reasons, including it is American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month, which brings me to my truth: We’re not living in a vacuum and we have to be concerned about others.
Now, when I was growing up, everyone, I mean every Black person I knew claimed some type of “Indian” heritage. They were “part” Cherokee, Apache, Seminole, or Comanche, et al. “Don’t you see my high cheekbones,” many would ask.
More ironic than celebrating “Thanksgiving” during American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month, has to be Black people who would rather identify with Native Americans while totally disregarding, dismissing and oftentimes making disparaging remarks about Africa!
Well, I just absolutely love Patty Talahongva. A member and former president of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA). Patty has been very helpful in sharing information about the culture of America’s real first family.
We were in a program that brought together journalists from NAJA, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and National Association of Black Journalists.
We had some intense discussions. I learned quite a bit from my sisters and brothers. We shared information about one another’s struggles and tackled stereotypes. The conversations weren’t always calm or civil; but they were definitely eye-opening.
Since those days, over a decade ago; I still feel a bond with men and women from each organization. I listened and felt their pain and didn’t try to one up them on whose experience was more painful.
When the members of NAJA said that sports mascots were offensive to their people, guess what? I made a commitment to honor them by not referring to those mascots, especially when you got the back story on some of those names.
I also learned about the significance of Totem Poles and other sacred items. Of course, I thought back to my last year that I went Trick or Treating and how because of my “Native American roots,” I dressed as an urban Pocahontas.
And there was also the high school I grew up wanting to attend, Weequahic High in Newark, NJ. The colors were orange and brown. I ended up at East Orange High and we were the Panthers.
And yes, I am going to say, today, I was a Black Panther, although that wasn’t really the case. I could also tell about the lessons I learned from the other journalism group members, but this is American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month, right?
Some people don’t care that they are hurting folks when they make negative comments about another’s culture, heritage, or upbringing. Thanksgiving is celebrated around the world, and many don’t know why.
Through my interactions with others, I learned more about my people and the Motherland. Sure, I already loved being Black and my feeling about African people has always been positive.
But there’s something to be said about sitting around with a group and the Native Americans can tell you what Nation their parents are from, the languages spoken, traditions and more.
On the other hand, here us Black folks were talking about our European experience and nothing more: dressing up for Easter Sunday, getting a turkey for Thanksgiving, struggling to get gifts so Santa Claus could bless everyone. You get the picture!
Well, I don’t have to wait until the fourth Thursday in November to eat “good” food, or to bring the family together. Actually, that was a way of life for African people.
Heck, Black people tease other Black People for participating in the ONLY celebration regarding the freedom of enslaved Africans in America, Juneteenth! But if we don’t celebrate, who will?
We can’t blame our young for not knowing anything, especially if we don’t know and we aren’t trying to find out so we can spread knowledge. We have a responsibility to teach, not to demonize those who don’t know. Know history. Share history.