In 1492 Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue…Something, Something, Something…America!

In 1492 Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue…Something, Something, Something…America!

White people are strangely passionate about October 12. Historically, this is the day Christopher Columbus made landfall in the Americas. Curiously, the Italian explorer never actually stepped foot in what is now the United States. Still, this hasn?t stopped cranky white dudes from going full Brett Kavanaugh constipated anger face in their defense of Columbus Day (the actual holiday falls on the second Monday of October).

Image for postHe?s got Bette Davis eyes

Take this response to an article about a City of Tacoma proposal to recognize October 12 as Indigenous Peoples? Day. ?It is Columbus Day! Get over yourself and this PC crap.? Said commentator later lamented the erasure of history saying, ?our (American) history is our history no matter how black and blue it is.?

This is gold medal mental gymnastics. I?m not really sure what the author is trying to say. He bemoans political correctness then suggests we should embrace the ugly parts of history. Does he wish to celebrate Columbus Day by giving a full accounting of the man and his legacy? If this is true then why not celebrate Indigenous Peoples? Day while talking about the colonization and genocide Columbus helped fuel?

Why do we celebrate Columbus Day? Until the early 1800?s most people in the United States knew little to nothing about Columbus. Between then and now a process of intentional myth making worked to create a national hero. I?m not going to get into the details. If you?re interested I suggest listening to this podcast. The point I?m getting at is this: Columbus could have been relegated to the dust bin of history. Instead, people made a conscious decision to dust him off and give him a shine for reasons that had nothing to do with achievement. If achievement in exploration were that important why not go with Leif Erickson? The elevation of Columbus to national icon wasn?t preordained. Our predecessors made a choice and we can make a different one.

Columbus is dead, has been for 512 years! He?s like extra dead. We shouldn?t worry about his feelings because he hasn?t had any for centuries. Arguing that we?re white washing history by changing the name of a holiday that wasn?t nationally recognized until 1937 feels disingenuous. Also, we?ve been engaging in white washing for years. Has anyone ever read the entirety of the Columbus poem? Did you know there?s more to it than, ?in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue?? The poem makes no mention of murder and colonization. Instead, it states ? The Arakawa natives were very nice;They gave the sailors food and spice.?

I don?t know the person who commented on the Indigenous Peoples? Day story but I took a look at his Facebook page and the page of another fed up American. I saw a lot of posts in their feeds from Breitbart and The Daily Caller. The material they shared had a common theme: white men are under siege.

I?m a white, middle-class, heterosexual American man. I have to say we?re doing just fine as a people. The modern world was made by folks who look like me. If I were a millionaire I?d be the most powerful force in human history. I was given advantages in life based off arbitrary features such as the color of my skin and the sex organ I was born with. Weird, but what?s worse is the fact that people who don?t look or live like me have been systematically marginalized and oppressed for centuries.

Look, this isn?t math. There shouldn?t be rigid rules or formulas to the human experience. We can change things and not worry about the roof caving in on us. I get a sense that some people don?t feel this way. Their full-throated defense of a defenseless holiday strikes me as fear masked as concern.

The commentator mentioned above may truly want a robust discussion of Columbus but he doesn?t want what has to happen next. We can change the name of a holiday and celebrate different people, but that?s just a first step. We must then confront our past in order to address issues in the present if we are to have a more just and equitable future for all. Doing so would require people who look like him ? and who look like me ? to surrender some of our power or, at the very least, use the influence given us to make life better for others. We can start by getting rid of Columbus Day.

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