Mastodon’s Thanksgiving t-shirt and its problematic tongue-in-cheek genocide

Get it?

- Nov 28, 2013

Back in early November, Mastodon released the above shirt. I assume it was something for their fans to wear to Thanksgiving dinner, to provoke more conservative relatives into defending the increasingly ludicrous belief that the first Thanksgiving was not the heralding of the genocide of the Native Americans. And the left can muster no shortage of outrage at what the metal band would deem their lack of “political correctness.” They might call it “an all-inclusive offender,” like a comedian you might find on a Fox News panel show.

I'm happy that Mastodon are conscious of Thanksgiving's history. Too many Americans aren't. But the shirt is more about empowering the person who wears it, than the oppressed people it depicts. If you're unconnected with that heritage, wearing it imbues you with the self-important air of “knowing some controversial shit and expressing it in a controversial manner.” The ones actually affected by these issues aren't the point: getting in the face of someone who disagrees with you and proving them wrong is. For proof, go on Twitter and follow someone with “atheist” in their Twitter bio. There's no sin in being obnoxious, but it becomes more toxic when it comes at the expense of real people facing real struggles with little support outside their own communities.

There's nowhere on the site that says Native people can't purchase that shirt. Which is good, because I wouldn't feel comfortable making eye contact with a white person in it. In political discourse, truth infrequently leads to empowerment. This is pretty much entrenched in North America at this point. So it's possible to appreciate the truth at the heart of the shirt's message while wondering if it's likely to deliver on any real change in the hearts and minds of anyone. And I doubt that was the point. The shirts cost $22, and there's no indication that a fraction of the proceeds go towards any sort of Aboriginal charity. This means Mastodon can still profit off the genocide of an entire people, even if they were born a few hundred years too late.

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