It was the time of year when most folks gave thanks for what they had, stuffed themselves, and watched a bit of football in the evening after a good meal. In Sheriff Roy’s household, however, the mood was tense as Arlene sat out place cards the Sheriff didn’t particularly care for.
“ROY TEMPLETON. PRONOUNS HE/HIM/HIS” read the Sheriff’s place card.
Cindy was coming again for Thanksgiving. His brother’s daughter had finally graduated from Yale with a dual major in criminal justice and women’s studies, and was this year’s family member from Barney’s house sent to the Templeton home for the holiday.
Cindy showed up promptly at 4:30 in a crimson sweater and houndstooth skirt. At least she’s putting in an effort to look nice, Sheriff Roy thought. Now let’s see how long she makes it through dinner without the politics crap she loves to go on about.
The meal finally made its way to the table, with Cindy helping Arlene prepare several dishes. Sheriff Roy was pleased at his niece’s insistence on helping with the spread this year, and Cindy proved herself as capable a cook as Arlene.
“Well, we’re sure pleased to have you here this year Cindy,” Sheriff Roy told his niece as the family sat at the table. “Would you please do us the honor of saying grace over the meal?”
“Yes Uncle Roy,” Cindy said sweetly. The family bowed their heads and folded their hands in collective readiness for prayer.
“Father God, the one who makes this feast possible, we come to you in a spirit of thanks, but not before we acknowledge that the land on which we sit is not our own, but that of the…”
“Hold the phone there, Cindy,” Sheriff Roy interrupted. “What in tarnation are you doing to a simple saying of ‘Grace’ over a meal?”
“Oh, it’s called a ‘Land Acknowledgement,’ Uncle Roy,” Cindy said smiling. “It’s just our way as white people to acknowledge we’re living on land stolen from indigenous people.”
“No one stole this land,” Sheriff Roy replied. “I bought it and the house on it and have worked tirelessly for the people of Mud Lick, Alabama to pay off this land, so it’s my own.
“But you must realize that our presence here is an egregious wrong…” Cindy began.
“Now listen here, missy,” Sheriff Roy started.
Sheriff Roy’s wife, Arlene, broke the tension. “How about I just say grace, sweetie?”
Sheriff Roy grumbled his assent, and the meal proceeded.
The Templetons survived about fifteen minutes before Cindy opened her mouth again.
“Do you have any BIPOC officers in your department, Uncle Roy? Dad’s doing some really unique things with diversity, inclusion and equity in the Fire Department.”
“What’s a BIPOC?”
“It’s an acronym for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. It’s used as a term to describe marginalized people who aren’t white.”
“Why not just say Black or Indian?”
“Because that’s racist now. You can’t say Indian anyway, Uncle Roy. You’re supposed to say ‘Indigenous people,’ or use the native Tribe’s name.”
“Maybe if they focused on teaching you how to solve real world problems at Yale instead of finding out ways to be offended over language you might actually be happy, Cindy.”
“You didn’t answer my question, Uncle Roy.”
“Deputy Stephens is African American. My second in command is Mexican-American. Both are very competent, qualified officers of the law, as I would expect for any who work for me.”
“Is that all?”
“You may have noticed the majority of citizens in Driftwood County as a whole are white, Cindy. It sort of limits the options I’ve got in the hiring pool.”
“But Daddy hired a Diversity consultant for the Fire Department and…”
“And in two years, the Fire Department’s going to be overrun with people who mean well and can’t do shit when it comes to putting out fires,” Sheriff Roy interrupted. “There’s a reason people call those imbeciles ‘DIE’ consultants. You listen to them and people are likely to die.”
“That’s a worldview steeped in privilege, Uncle Roy. Did you read that Kimberle Crenshaw book I sent you last year?”
Sheriff Roy drew a blank. He remembered getting a book the previous year from Cindy for Christmas, thinking it was full of shit after twenty pages, and then banishing it to a box in the basement, but he didn’t remember the name “Kimberle Crenshaw.”
“I’m sure I did,” he said, staring at Cindy.
The family continued their dinner in relative quiet until Cindy spoke up yet again.
“When you do staff meetings at your department, do your co-workers describe themselves for the people who attend the meetings?”
“What the hell kind of nonsense is that, Cindy?”
“It’s common practice among business people to describe themselves physically when in meetings to be inclusive of people who don’t have the benefit of sight.”
“Cindy, sweetie, there’s not a soul in my department who’s blind. Why would I go and do a fool thing like describe how people look for people who can actually see?”
“Well what happens if you hire a blind officer?”
“Then someone’s probably got more problems than I care to address right now.”
“Uncle Roy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone as resistant to change or as blind to basic kindness as you,” Cindy said with a hint of irony in her voice. “Daddy’s going to all sorts of lengths to make sure people feel included at the Fire Department and you’re sticking to your own privileged guns of ‘merit’ and ‘hard work.’ You of all people should know those are concepts firmly rooted in white supremacy!”
“You’re lecturing a black man,” Sheriff Roy began, “on the diversity of his office, whether he tells people who can perfectly see what folks look like in meetings, and asking me to tell people a lie that I stole the land my house sits on from Indians I’ve never met?”
“You don’t need to be such a…” Cindy sputtered. “Colonizer!”
“Let’s see to the pie, Roy Junior,” Arlene said, ushering the youngest Templeton from the room.
When Arlene and Roy Junior left, Sheriff Roy turned to his niece and really spoke his mind.
“I have let you in my house on two separate occasions and you’ve come in here poisoning a nice holiday where people give thanks for the good things in their life with your politics and social justice woke crap. This stops today. If you want to remain an active guest invited here during the holidays I’m going to have to ask you please stop bringing that nonsense into my home this time of year.”
“You voted for Trump, didn’t you?” Cindy spat. “Bigot.”
“The door’s right where you came in, Cindy. Tell your father I said hello and he’s running his department to shit, have a nice holiday, and hopefully we’ll see you next year when you’ve let a bit of that Yale education seep out of your brain.”
Cindy stormed off, not even bothering to say goodbye to the rest of the family.
Arlene returned shortly with her county-famous apple pie. “Did Cindy have some reason to up and leave without saying goodbye to myself and Roy Junior, sweetie?”
“Unfortunately she’s got a terminal case of stupid in the brain, Arlene,” Sheriff Roy replied.
“Well, there’s always next year,” Arlene said to her husband.
“Daddy can we watch football now?” Roy Junior asked his father.
“Are you done with your meal, son?”
“Then let’s go watch the Lions lose, Junior.” Sheriff Roy patted his son on the head and smiled at him. “Never let Cindy’s nonsense get in your head, my dear boy.”
“Okay, daddy,” Roy Junior replied to his father.
And the evening ended as all good Thanksgivings do in America, with tryptophan-induced brain fog and spectacles of grown men in armor colliding with each other at high speeds for entertainment.