As any elementary school graduate can attest, the first Thanksgiving united the Pilgrims and their "Indian" neighbors to celebrate the first successful harvest at Plymouth. According to the settlers, that is. Today, Native Americans observe Thanksgiving as a day of mourning for indigenous peoples and their cultures.
Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise" and an occasion for "humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience." He implored citizens to pray for national unity and healing. Because a handful of states had decided they would prefer starting their own country and going to war over giving up the right to own people. Fake unity is as deeply ingrained in the tradition of Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie. Does it continue in 2016, a year that has constantly met the challenge of proving it can always get worse?
This election has emboldened a lot of people to embrace their inner ugliness. People of color, women, non-Christians, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and disabled individuals are afraid of losing their rights and their lives. We still don't know what "making America great" entails, except that it doesn't include a president who uses more than three adjectives. And something about a swamp, according to a hideous billboard on I-240. Daily headlines announcing fraud settlements, conflicts of interest, and appointments of assorted alt-right fabulists do nothing to quash the dread.
As we come to grips with the fact that we live in a country where the KKK-endorsed candidate can actually win an election, here comes "the most wonderful time of the year." Talk among friends and coworkers of holiday plans has turned strategic. Some of us are blessed with families who share their beliefs or can at least disagree respectfully. But many others, especially in this part of the country, have relatives who are downright elated to git that damned Obummer outta there. And so, the "where are you goings?" and "what dish are you bringings?" have given way for more serious concerns, such as "Do you have a backup plan in case things get too tense at your in-laws' house in East Tennessee?" "Is your brother's wife coming around?" "Is it safe to mix Xanax and tryptophan?"
For those who aren't feeling particularly festive — and can you blame them? — there are three courses of action: avoid, divert, and confront.
Avoidance is the old standby for non-confrontational types. Football's on. There are probably some leaves to rake or some dishes to rinse. Find a far-off recliner, pop in some earbuds, and enjoy a podcast or six. Invite Netflix to your family celebration. Open your mouth only to insert food, then fall asleep immediately. Another option: avoid the whole thing entirely. Fake an illness. Pick up a shift. Skip the festivities because you're an adult and you value your time and sanity. Have a Friendsgiving with people who don't cause your blood pressure to spike.
Establishing a politics-free zone sounds nice until it turns into a talking-free zone. Save a few topic starters, a couple of memes, and some funny dog photos in your phone. Have you been keeping up with Westworld? Can you believe the Cubs finally won the World Series? Who wants to do the Mannequin Challenge? If politics begins to bubble into the conversation, asking, "Can we talk about literally anything else right now?" is an effective kill switch.
Invoke the Southern rules of polite conversation, and remind your family members it's just not proper to discuss President Manbaby at the table, especially when Aunt Jean worked so hard to prepare this delightful meal. Speaking of delightful meals, where did you find this sweet potato recipe? The marshmallows are browned to perfection. Too fired up to play nice? Lay it all out on the table — and I'm not talking about the assortment of festive sides. This year, racists don't get corn casserole. They get served in a heated argument. Show up armed. With knowledge, that is. Brush up on your fake news and come prepared for every complaint about crybaby protesters or gendered insult about the former secretary of state. The days of letting Uncle Randy get away with his Mexican "jokes" for the sake of peacekeeping are over — no matter how much the yelling upsets your grandma. Passively enabling a legion of Uncle Randys is what got us in this situation.
Then again, you can always just drink. Hand over your keys, sidle over to the nearest box of wine, and reminisce about a greater America, when the worst thing about family gatherings was the food. Cheers to the holidays!
Jen Clarke is an unapologetic Memphian and digital marketing strategist.