This year, I am happy that two of my four grown sons are able spend the American holiday of Thanksgiving with me and their mother. I am fortunate. My boys have grown to manhood and are taking their place as healthy, productive, active citizens of their country and the world. This year, I am acutely aware that not all parents of sons can enjoy this blessing.
So this Thanksgiving, I am particularly grateful that my sons were able to grow up outside the shadow of pervasive fear that grips the lives of so many young men in my home country, in the region where I am spending this year, and in the world at large. Of course we all live with the prospect that violence could reach us at any moment. But so many young men are now living under harsher circumstances, where the daily presence of violence impinges on every aspect of their lives. So many young men live with:
- the knowledge that their skin color or their identity leaves them vulnerable to the unpredictable actions of armed people around them
- the threat of soldiers or police banging down the front door in the middle of the night
- the prospect of being swept by friends and comrades into an escalating cycle of protest and resistance where bloodshed becomes inevitable
- the fear of that a sudden move or an unexpected gesture might be taken for a threat, and met with a burst of gunfire
- the awareness that even a minor encounter with the police or the military might lead to months or even years in prison, with or without charges
- the fear that their country might, in an instant, no longer be their country
My boys were shielded from these particular daily tribulations, and for that I am grateful. But I am also aware on this Thanksgiving Day that other people are paying a steep price for the measure of protection and security that many of us enjoy.
Some of that price is paid by men and women who serve in the military or law enforcement. My sons and I owe a debt of gratitude to those who, unlike us, have served their country and their communities in this particular way.
But much of the cost of “security” is borne by young men in marginalized communities who are at the receiving end of the excesses of militarized states, and who pay with years of joblessness, incarceration, and lost years of their lives. The prospects for those young men may be growing worse in the coming era, if our governments rely on racist innuendo to justify further repressive measures in the name of combatting crime or terror.
So I am also aware, on this Thanksgiving day, that with gratitude comes responsibility: the urgent need to face honestly the massive inequalities that beset our societies, and not simply to take refuge behind the structures of privilege. In a small way, I hope that I am contributing this year by helping young Palestinians understand their own situation in relation to the promises and the perils of life in the United States. It will, however, require more than mere understanding to disperse that shadow of fear.