Columbus Day 2019

The United States of America or Europe?

If you attend public school or private school, you know who Christopher Columbus is. He is taught as one of the main explorers that brought awareness to Europe that there was an entirely “New World,” available to be colonized (aka conquered). We now know that the “New World” was already populated, yet that fact is not the first to be taught. If and when it is taught, it is in the context of European “exploration.” 

Currently, some states and the District of Columbia are renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Unsurprisingly, many people are upset at what they see as erasure or rewriting of history. They argue that Columbus is celebrated for his determination and innovation, accomplishing what was previously unknown. The New York Post has several op-ed pieces on the importance of Columbus to Italian heritage. An oft-repeated refrain is that we would not have the democratic America that exists today without Columbus.

On this last point, I agree. America as we know it is very much a European colony. Not formally of course. We have our own flag and laws and economy. But practically, we are not a democratic republic, representing a multitude of cultures. Look no further than Columbus Day for confirmation of that fact. Christopher Columbus is the anglicized version of Cristoforo Colombo (Italian) or Cristóbal Colón (Spanish). Our English roots are showing. As an interesting aside, Columbus may not have been Italian. And he may have learned about enslaving Indigenous peoples during his work as a Portuguese merchant marine.

In 2019, the United States of America continues to educate its students from a Eurocentric perspective without identifying how such an education promotes White Supremacy or marginalizes those who do not look or sound like the Queen’s subjects. Where is our curriculum about Turtle Island? Why are oppression and cultural extinction a footnote (if that), instead of a central component of the development of our nation? How can we live up to the ideals of a more perfect and just union, when we refuse to support anything outside of White/European goodness? 

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