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Store front after Ferguson riot
Reuters/Jim Young
Life is fragile.

Black Americans still have a reason to be hopeful this Thanksgiving

Khadijah Costley White
By Khadijah Costley White

Assistant professor, Rutgers University

Sigmund Freud once said, “Because I was a Jew I found myself free from many prejudices which limited others in the use of their intellect, and being a Jew, I was prepared to enter opposition and to renounce agreement with the ‘compact majority.’” As I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, like many millions of other Americans, I can’t help but reflect upon the truth of his words. While so many of us are alike, rushing home to bake, clean and prep the house for family, we also seem to live so far apart. Some of us are still tired from protests, with raspy voices, and sweat-soaked clothes. And as we get ready for another holiday season in the country of our birth, few of us are able to see this nation for what it really is.

It has been a rough week for many African-Americans and others who dream of a society committed to racial equality. It seems that each of the last seven days have brought troubling news. On Nov. 20, a black man leaving his girlfriend’s apartment was killed by a police officer who claimed to be startled to see someone walking in an occupied residential building. The victim’s two-year-old daughter will never have Thanksgiving with her father again. She probably won’t remember what he looks like.

Other people missing family on this holiday include the relatives of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was killed by Cleveland police officers on Nov. 22 afternoon while playing outside with a plastic pellet gun. “Guns are not toys,” the local police chief said. Except, of course, the toy guns. But apparently, playing with toys is yet another age-old American tradition that doesn’t include black children.

On Nov. 25, Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who had already once been sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiming a warning shot at an abusive husband attacking her and her nine-day-old child, accepted a plea deal in the face of new charges that could have tripled the length of her overturned sentence. Two more months behind bars. One more Thanksgiving without her two children.

And later that night, the nation found out that the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri might never be held accountable his actions. A grand jury (which needed a decision from only nine people and included exactly nine white members) found that the execution of a unarmed black teenager was not even worth a trial. And the following morning, the body of 20-year-old DeAndre Joshua was found not too far from the spot where Mike Brown once lay dead. Another black youth gone, shot to death and set on fire—burned and left for dead like too many Black men in America’s past. Another empty spot at the Thanksgiving table.

As my partner and I prepare our home for Thanksgiving, we know this day is bittersweet. We remember that there are workers who will be stocking shelves instead of eating at home. We know that there is deep irony on giving thanks on a day that marks the massacre of indigenous people. We will laugh loudly, give long hugs, and say “I love you” to each other as often as we can. Like Freud, I know that because I am a black person and a woman, I find myself free of so many things that limit others in seeing the world. I know that life is precarious and fragile. I know that joy is precious and family is a gift for which black Americans continue to fight hard to protect. I know that living a life committed to resistance and struggle is so much better than one of fear and hate.

Black folks in America will give thanks tomorrow. We will celebrate our time together because we know how precious it is and how easily it can be stolen. And we will continue to know this country, this community, for what it is—a deeply fraught society that still remains full of so much possibility.

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