Point of View Columns

Time to End Columbus Day

Columbus Day celebrations have taken place in the United States for over a century. The original celebration took place in response to the lynching of Italian immigrants in New Orleans and was seen as a kind of a national mea culpa as well as a way to affirm the citizenship. Parenthetically, one might ask how many black people need to be lynched and killed by police before the citizenship of black Americans will be affirmed – but we digress.

It is not clear why Christopher Columbus was chosen as the focus of celebration by our Italian American brothers and sisters. At the latter part of the 19th century other subjects of pride were widely known – men such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, thought to be the father of modern Italy, or Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor and pioneer of wireless transmission or the legendary opera composer Giuseppe Verdi.

Instead, Christopher Columbus was chosen, a man around whom a myth would literally be invented. This is a myth that serves to mask the race-based conquest and genocide that is the true legacy of all residents of the Western Hemisphere. This is a myth that serves to distract from the crimes against humanity that haunt all of this to this very day.

Consider the breathtaking scope of the lies and untruths that surround the Christopher Columbus myth. First and foremost, there is no logic, except a racist perversion of the facts that Columbus “discovered” America. How is it possible to discover a land where tens of millions of people had been living for thousands of years? Only a Eurocentric white supremacist vision of history could sustain the logic that Columbus “discovered” anything in the Western Hemisphere.

If one wishes to put a fig leaf on this non-myth and state that he was the first European to arrive in the Western Hemisphere —- that would be untrue as well. Historians agree that the Viking settlements in what is now Newfoundland predate the arrival of Columbus by several centuries.

And then, there is the larger issue as to what is being celebrated. The arrival of Columbus was the vanguard of a virtual deluge of European invasion of the Western Hemisphere bringing disease, death and cultural annihilation to the indigenous people. Celebrating Columbus means celebrating the beginning of genocide so vast and so profound that it is literally beyond calculation – there are no more Arawaks, or Tainos, or Aztecs or Incas or Caribs, the list is sadly endless – thanks to the invasion begun by Columbus.

And let us not forget that Columbus was also the vanguard of the most massive slave empire in the history of the planet. Beginning in 1492, Europeans who not satisfied with conquering and killing and stealing the land of the indigenous people began the African slave trade which devastated the African continent and established a race-based society and mindset that has lasted to this very day.

So when it comes to Christopher Columbus, there really is nothing to celebrate. Again, if the day is to be about the celebration of Italian heritage, there are many candidates, any of whom have a more glorious legacy and have left a more honorable heritage than Columbus.

Sad to say, there will be many who will wish to cling to this myth, just as they cling to the myth that the leaders of the slaveholding Confederacy were good and honorable men. Just as there are those who will cling to the myth that Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were honorable men even though they owned and bought and sold human being during their entire adult lives.

There is no way to change the past. There is no way to forget the past. There is no way to forgive the past. But there should be no way that we should countenance the celebration of myths and fairy tales that disguise and mythologize the past. Participation in the desecration of the memory of the victims is also a great crime – but one that can be corrected.

It is time to end Columbus Day.

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Point of View Columns

Columbus, Football and Genocide

Columbus Day is being celebrated throughout these United States. It is a celebration that reveals absolute and intentional ignorance of basic history. It is a celebration that honors the dishonorable, the horrific and the indelible. It is a time when collectively Americans choose to put on blinders and ignore the simple fact that this country, indeed modern “civilization” in the Western Hemisphere, is built on the blood soaked soil and bones of the indigenous people along with the shattered remains of their African comrades in pain. Just like the National Football League.

One would think that it would be unnecessary in the second decade of the twenty first century to once again point out that Christopher Columbus didn’t “discover” America. There were millions of indigenous people who had inhabited the so-called New World for thousands of years. There were towns and villages and cities and empires with achievements in astronomy, mathematics and engineering that rivaled and in some cases surpassed the best that Europe had to offer.

Columbus wasn’t even the first European to set foot in the Western Hemisphere. The Vikings beat Columbus to the historical punch establishing settlements in New Foundland almost half a millennium earlier. But Columbus Day has a much greater meaning than the abandoned Viking settlements in what is now Canada.

But Christopher Columbus brought with him greed, avarice and an implacable hunger for gold and riches which, with the blessings of the Catholic Church, opened an era of rape, genocide and treachery which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of indigenous people throughout the hemisphere. Taking the concept of white supremacy to its most awful extreme, Christopher Columbus and the Europeans who followed him, felt justified in killing men, women and children without remorse. They considered the right to enslave others to be part of their white Christian birthright and they established societies which, to this day, carry the virus of sanctioned racism. And we know all too well that this virus manifests itself in daily society.

The question becomes, knowing these rather obvious facts, why does anyone choose to celebrate the legacy of a murderer who was the harbinger of genocide and the first to seize the opportunity to destroy, demolish and obliterate societies and civilizations? It must be that it is more comfortable for too many to celebrate undeniable falsehoods than come to grips with the uncomfortable truth.

Which brings to mind the National Football League which still abides by its Washington team being called the “Redskins”, an odious term that was never acceptable, and is more horrific in its usage the more that history has been revealed to us. Nevertheless, the NFL and CBS and NBC and Fox and ABC and other sports news outlets refer to “Redskins” even though it is impossible to consider sports teams with names like the “New York Niggers” or the “Boston Kikes” or the “Chicago Wops” being acceptable. Referring to the indigenous people as mascots is akin to building a communal toilet on what remains of their tradition and history.

There is no calculus which could reduce the concept of “reparations” to dollars and cents. But it would be helpful to stop celebrating lies and continuing horrific myths while the ghosts of the dead continue to seek recognition, if not the redress they so richly deserve.

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