Exploring Columbus Day
Yesterday was Columbus Day and I have to proclaim it as one of our most minor holidays, right down there with Arbor Day, Flag Day, and maybe just a little less prominent than Groundhog Day.
I was tempted to post an anti Columbus rant yesterday, but out of respect for Italian-Americans I decided to delay until at least the holiday was over.
Why would I care if we honor Columbus and set aside a special day to recognize his place in our history? What wrong with that?
First, Columbus didn’t actually discover America. The Vikings had already voyaged here long before he made it. So my first objection is that we’ve all been taught a lie, and that lie is being perpetuated to this day in our schools.
Secondly, and more importantly, there were millions of people living full and vibrant lives on this continent when Columbus “discovered” it. The ancestors of these inhabitants were the real discoverers, and the first people to set their feet on American soil.
Thirdly, where’s their holiday? Is there any holiday which recognizes Native Americans? Why not? Is their contribution to our heritage less than that of one plucky Italian sailor? I don’t think so.
Fourthly, there’s a dark side to Columbus Day. What Columbus actually accomplished was to set in motion a genocide of native peoples by European intruders. I’ve taken some blowback for a previous blog about Thanksgiving in which I pointed out that the Pilgrims and other early settlers ruthlessly slaughtered tribes in Massachusetts Colony, another little shameful anecdote from American history we’d rather ignore.
Fifthly, Columbus himself was not above killing native peoples. Maybe this is a truth Americans would prefer not to hear, but Columbus and his men raped, murdered and took as slaves the natives they encountered. Do we really want to honor and continue to tell school children what a great person he was?
Does anybody care about all this? Not very much. The descendants of what was left of the original occupiers of this continent have been so marginalized and so overwhelmed by European bloodlines, we seem to rarely ever consider their point of view. Which seems a little weird.
I thought our country had developed some appreciation for the value of diversity in our culture. The fight for minorities to be included in the American experience has become a foundation of political correctness.
Except for one group, which hardly ever seems to get any recognition. Native Americans still live in abject poverty, confined by economic reality to some of the worst pieces of land the government could find.
There are no prominent Native American politicians, few celebrities, almost no wealthy tycoons among them. In fact, they are practically invisible in American culture.
We live in a country where Johnny Depp can portray a Native American in a Disney movie and hardly anyone seems to care. European descendants have no problem adorning their bodies with beautiful jewelry inspired and often actually created by native people, while turning their back on the plight of these people in our society.
Let me ask you this. What other minority group has to suffer a professional sports team whose name is a racial slur? Answer, none. That situation would not be tolerated by our culture. But the Washington Redskins will be cheered on once again this weekend by adoring fans.
This is an ugly truth we need to fix. We need to stop worshipping false heroes and admit our role as mass murderers.
At the least, a minor holiday should mark the people who first inhabited this country. Call it Crazy Horse Day, or Sequoyah Day, or Geronimo Day, but for the sake of all that’s right, let’s do something.