Columbus Day is an excuse to celebrate a white man’s murderous onslaught when we could be mourning the lives he took
With the passing of Columbus Day, we are confronted with the question of what exactly it is we celebrate on this holiday. Some argue it’s the celebration of a man who “discovered” America and others argue it's both an attack on indigenous people and an attempt to draw a veil over the biggest genocide of Native Americans known in North American history. Here is a brief review of his exploits after landing in the Americas that goes beyond "Columbus sailed the ocean blue."
According to A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, in 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean on an island now known as the Bahamas. Shortly after he encountered the native population, Columbus appointed himself as the Viceroy and Governor of the Caribbean islands and began implementing policies of slavery as he worked to exterminate the native residents. Over the next three years, he and his men slaughtered an estimated five million out of 18 million Natives. By the time Columbus left, only 100,000 were left alive. Even after he left, his policies lived on and killed more Natives throughout the Caribbean islands. By 1514, the Spanish census counted only 22,000 Natives. After 1542, most of the Natives were extinct either from Columbus's genocide or from the diseases he brought over from Europe. The remaining Natives worked as slaves on plantations and mines for the Spanish.
In celebrating Columbus, we are ignoring a significant aspect of his legacy: genocide. None of Columbus's accomplishments outway the costs of the human lives that he took. It is abundantly clear that Columbus Day should be replaced with a day that honors the lives taken under Columbus’s rule. According to Time Magazine, several American states and cities, such as Los Angeles, Alaska and South Dakota, have taken action on the issue and changed the day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, describing the importance of the holiday being changed to Indigenous People’s Day, "This gesture of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is a very small step in apologizing and in making amends." Renaming the holiday shows respect for the thousands of lives lost and pushes people to educate themselves about indigenous people. Moreover, it serves as a reminder that the actions of Columbus should be recalled with accuracy, not to mention sadness and sorrow.
Supporters of Columbus Day hold that Columbus was an explorer that changed history for the better. They emphasize that Columbus demonstrated great courage by crossing the Atlantic Ocean, how he was a great Italian leader and how he discovered America and brought two worlds together. In addition, according to Jeanne Allen, a writer for the Washington Examiner, Columbus’s actions should not be judged by current day standards. He states “Columbus and other historical figures should be judged by the standards of conduct during the time they lived in rather than by the standards of today.”
Even the most ardent supporters of Columbus acknowledge that mass murder is not justified. They do, however, justify why Columbus may have killed thousands of native civilizations that practiced cannibalism. “He was less pleased with those from other tribes he encountered later, such as the warlike Caribs, who practiced cannibalism.” But it seems unfair to forgive Columbus for behaving in accordance with the standards of his day but blame Natives for behaving in accordance with the standards of their day.
We have only so many national holidays and it’s worth considering what they are devoted to. Most of these other holidays celebrate the sacrifices of an individual or groups (Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day). In the matter of Columbus day, we have to ask ourselves once more about whom we want to memorialize, a mass murderer or the people who suffered. By changing the holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day, the memorial reflects more accurately those who made the real sacrifice and who deserve to be remembered.
Sophia Lucarelli. staff writer More »