Day 12: Columbus Day? Columbus DON'T!
I understand that, as of my posting, this whole conversation is a bit done to death. But considering how few people will read it anyway, I might as well air my thoughts on the matter.
Columbus was not a hero. He was not a visionary. He was not the first man to reach the "New World", nor was he even the first European to do so. I understand the impulse to mark our history with a day to commemorate the settling of our land, but to do so by highlighting Columbus, a man who oversaw the slaughter, rape and humiliation of countless indigenous people, pours salt into a wound that is still healing: the white-indigenous tension in our country.
In terms of people groups who got the shaft in our collective history, Native Americans are way up there. Right near the top of the list with Jews and African Americans. In fact, while the latter two communities managed by the grace of God to maintain some semblance of culture and community after their abuse by the white powers of the past and present, Natives today must cling to the vestiges of their customs, religions and cultures.
I say all this as someone who straddles the Native-white divide, as I am significantly Cherokee on my father's side. Granted, I can pass for white-white in my public life, and so recognize my access to white privileges and benefits, but I cannot suppress this other part of my heritage, nor would I want to. I have not always nurtured this part of myself but in truth it does mean something to me. I identify, if not wholly, with being Native.
Now I know the Cherokee were not the people group whom Columbus decimated with his vicious campaign. I am not claiming heritage with the Bahaman natives from five hundred years ago. I would, however, admit to fuming when the slaughter of Natives is whitewashed so we can tell a Great Man-conquistador narrative about the settling of the Americas.
This indignation also comes with plenty of humility and shame, however, as I am moreso of Western European descent than I am Native American. As I mentioned, I benefit from white supremacy and Euro-dominant historical narratives by virtue of my apparent whiteness. And being white is nothing to be ashamed of necessarily, but it does mean I must recognize the blood of deeds done by my ancestors is still to some degree on my hands. The subjugation and murder of indigenous peoples, black slaves, and any number of other ethnic minority groups still shapes how our nation functions today. And things won't change automatically. We have to work against these systems, these legacies of blood and domination.
We have to.
And there are a thousand ways to start, but a decent one, literally the least we can do, is to not celebrate a tyrant, even a historically significant tyrant.
So happy Indigenous Peoples Day!