7 People Thinking Differently About Columbus Day

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How can we celebrate this man as a hero, when what he really did was lead imperialists to a “manifest destiny” that involved the theft of lands, property, human beings and eventually to a mass genocide?

Here, some innovative people and groups who are reframing the discussion of Columbus Day:

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Vincent Schilling and the Indian Country Today Media Network

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Vince Schilling lists 8 Myths and Atrocities About Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day, including “Columbus Painted a Horrible Picture of Peaceful Natives”, “Columbus Returned to Spain in Shackles—But Was Pardoned”, “Columbus’ Men Were Rapists and Murderers”, and “Columbus Never Landed on American Soil. Not in 1492 – Not Ever” excerpted below. Make sure you read Schilling’s entire list here.

We’re not talking about the Leif Ericson Viking explorer story. We mean Columbus didn’t land on the higher 48—ever. Columbus quite literally landed in what is now known as the Bahamas and later Hispaniola, present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Upon arrival, Columbus and his expedition of weapon laden Spaniards met the Arawaks, Tainos and Lucayans—all friendly, according to Columbus’ writings. Soon after arriving, Columbus wrecked the Santa Maria and the Arawaks worked for hours to save the crew and cargo.

Impressed with the friendliness of the native people, Columbus seized control of the land in the name of Spain. He also helped himself to some locals. In his journal he wrote:

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”

 

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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 

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1492.
The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them…

The sea pirates were white. The people who were already on the continent when the pirates arrived were copper-colored. When slavery was introduced onto the continent, the slaves where black.

Color was everything.

Here is how the pirates were able to take whatever they wanted from anybody else: they had the best boats in the world, and they were meaner than anybody else, and they had gunpowder…

The chief weapon of the sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was much too late, how heartless and greedy they were.

–Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Breakfast of Champions

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The Raiz Up Hip Hop Collective, Detroit

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day.

“WE EXIST, WE RESIST.”

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James Ellroy

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“America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can’t ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can’t lose what you lacked at conception. Mass-market nostalgia gets you hopped up for a past that never existed. Hagiography sanctifies shuck-and-jive politicians and reinvents their expedient gestures as moments of great moral weight. Our continuing narrative line is blurred past truth and hindsight. Only a reckless verisimilitude can set that line straight.” – James Ellroy, American Tabloid

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American Indian Movement of Colorado

Visit ColoradoAim.org

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James W. Loewen

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“Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass…

…Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves–about five thousand–than any other individual. To her credit, Queen Isabella opposed outright enslavement and returned some Indians to the Caribbean. But other nations rushed to emulate Columbus. In 1501 the Portuguese began to depopulate Labrador, transporting the now extinct Beothuk Indians to Europe and Cape Verde as slaves. After the British established beachheads on the Atlantic coast of North America, they encouraged coastal Indian tribes to capture and sell members of more distant tribes. Charleston, South Carolina, became a major port for exporting Indian slaves. The Pilgrims and Puritans sold the survivors of the Pequot War into slavery in Bermuda in 1637. The French shipped virtually the entire Natchez nation in chains to the West Indies in 1731

A particularly repellent aspect of the slave trade was sexual. As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean, before it even reached Haiti, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape. On Haiti, sex slaves were one more perquisite that the Spaniards enjoyed. Columbus wrote a friend in 1500, “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen, pp. 53, 57-58

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Robert Wuhl

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In his television show, “Assume the Position”, Wuhl starts his lecture on Columbus with “Assume the position that History is based upon a true story”

WUHL: There are very few universal truths in the world. One is food always tastes better when somebody else is paying for it. Universal truth. The other is that everybody in this room was taught the story of how Columbus when before Queen Isabella of Spain and he was gonna prove to her that the world was…

AUDIENCE: Round!

WUHL:Do you know that Queen Isabella of Spain, pretty smart woman I gotta believe, would have said to Christopher Columbus if he laid this line of her? She would have looked at him and go, “Christopher, Aristotle figured out the world was round 2000 years ago! This is 1492, the year they invented the globe!” So this “world in round” story is 100% bullshit. It’s total fiction. Yet how did our grandparents learn this? We learned this? Our grandchildren are probably gonna learn this. How come? Because history is pop culture.

Assume the Position with Robert Wuhl (2006) (watch)

 

 

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Hat tip to Tom Burns, who helped compile this list, and Melissa Fabello for some awesome leads.

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Comments

  1. Brian Hansford says:

    Yes, Columbus led the way. The Spaniards were even more brutal. If it makes people feel better, take the bank holiday away.

    I think it’s ironic about all the hand wringing on Columbus that comes from white guys living capitalist lives in big U.S. cities that were once indigenous lands.

    Meanwhile, in more important news in Washington DC…..

  2. Alan Siebuhr says:

    You’re missing The Oatmeal and his comic on Columbus Day. It was excellent.

  3. Queen Isabella wasn’t that smart, she was one of the major factors in instigating the Spanish Inquisition. Off topic I know but really, not actually very smart of her

  4. You guys DO realize that every single person living on the North and South American Continents at the time Columbus arrived were part of civilizations that took their land from prior settlers don’t you? You guys know that slavery was part of many, if not most of these civilizations as well?

    What is the difference of between a Mexica enslaving a Chichimeca and a Spaniard enslaving a Taino? The Central and South American civilizations had hundreds of thousands of slaves. Spend a little time reading about pre-1492 America. The idea that the first slaves were black and that Columbus introduced slavery or that rape was solely the province of European explorers is kind of ridiculous. The Mexica sacrificed over 80’000 slaves and captives in 4 days for the re-consecration of the Great Pyramid in 1487. The majority of the people you are quoting above suffer from an astounding amount cognitive dissonance. Pre 1492 America wasn’t some happy go lucky place of noble indigenous people walking the earth in harmony with nature; life was nasty, brutish and short full of wars, strife and the struggle for dominance.

    I’m not saying Columbus was a hero or worthy of celebration by any means. However, you can make that point without relying on ridiculous inaccuracy. History is History – its not about white people BAD non white people GOOD.

    • There’s definitely a lot to what you’re saying. We demonize the white-Euro people because they have been holding the land since then, but the white-Euros didn’t invent violence, slavery or land acquisition.

  5. Couldn’t we solve the whole Italian American pride issue around Columbus Day by creating Fiorello De La Guardia day instead? La Guardia is far more positive role model, and much more representative of today’s Italian American’s heritage too.

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