Another Columbus Day comes around, and another round of outrage inevitably follows. But this year we have an extra twist: Seattle passed a new law inaugurating “Indigenous People’s Day” on the same day as Columbus Day. It is not a first (Berkley did something similar way back in 1992), but it is the biggest US city to officially turn its back on Columbus Day and instead celebrate the original people of North America.
While I certainly agree with the concept of an Indigenous Day, and I would be in favor of making it a federal (thus national) holiday, the hatred spewed on Columbus Day smacks of hypocrisy.
Let’s not forget this very basic fact: if it wasn’t for Columbus, 95% of the current US population would not be in this country at all. So unless you are part of the 5% of Native Americans still left in the US population (and that is generous, official statistics only list 1.7% of the population as Native American) YOU would currently live in either Europe, Africa, Asia or on some Pacific Island right now, possibly living under an autocratic regime, or in a society stiffened by adherence to millennia-old misogynistic culture, or not even being able to cover your basic food and shelter needs. Take it from a more recent immigrant: the U.S. in the year 2014 is the best country you could possibly live in!
There is no denying that Columbus was a cruel, gold-loving murderer who inflicted a lot of suffering on the native populations that he encountered. After all, he was a white European, and throughout the history of the world it has been proved time and time again that white Europeans and their descendants/allies have been the most brutal, barbaric and cold-hearted group of people in the history of humanity. But there’s also no denying that Columbus is one of the reason most Americans call the US home.
So should he be celebrated at all? Or should he be indicted as a criminal against humanity, as the Huffington Post proposes? It’s at this juncture that hypocrisy rears its ugly head, and I decide to distance myself from the outrage over Columbus Day. By the Huffington Post’s logic, EVERY single US President from Independence until the early 20th century should be found guilty of the genocide of the Native Americans (see also , and this). Columbus was an amateur in comparison to what 18th and 19th century White Americans did to the Natives. Yet we celebrate all of our presidents and even have a federal holiday for the purpose, while nobody gets outraged! How strange…
The second reason why I find this outrage hypocritical is because it is sterile, as most social media-fueled outrage usually is. While thousands find 30 seconds today to post a comment on social media criticizing Columbus and supporting Native Americans, how many of them take ANY action the remaining 364 days of the year on this issue? So while the myth around Columbus has been busted decades ago, and his atrocities have been well documented for years, the “conquest of the West” is still a strong part of the curriculum of most schools in the US. “Manifest Destiny” is still the prevalent belief, albeit not as overtly expressed as it was in the 19th century. After all, if I ask you “which country should lead the World,” what would your immediate response be?
In the end, I could live in an America without Columbus Day, but could you live in an America that teaches about the Greatest Genocide in History instead of the “conquest of the West”? Or in an America that teaches about the “US war crimes in Vietnam” instead of the Vietnam War (and for those who think that atrocities were confined to only a few army units and isolated incidents, recently declassified papers showed that abuses against civilians were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam)?
Unless you decide to fully lift the veil of hypocrisy surrounding your understanding of US history, especially concerning the treatment of Native Americans, the outrage over Columbus Day is quite useless…