How Columbus Day is Uniquely American

How Columbus Day is Uniquely American October 8, 2012

Happy Columbus Day, everyone! If you’ve checked your Twitter account today, you’re aware that it is one of the most despised government holidays of the year. (Even more so than Halloween, sorry fundamentalists.) This morning, I was greeted with tweets such as:

  • “Happy Indian-murdering day!”
  • “Columbus Day is a good reminder of how much complete BS they teach you in elementary school”
  • “Fact: Columbus Day is also known as @DaneCook Day, since he likes to ‘discover’ other peoples’ jokes and reuse them as his own” (Maybe my favorite)

The dynamic of Columbus Day is quite unique and it fits the American identity-at-large very, very well. While its origin was rooted in the Italian-American community’s fight against racism and second-class citizenship (for more on that, read this), it has turned into a white guilt-fest. But everything from the man himself to the sarcastic anti-Columbus tweets can be found deep in American mythology and identity.

As theologian Richard Lovelace has observed about the “American flesh”:

[It] is compounded of covetousness, gluttony, egocentric libertarianism and pride, all of which have been selectively bred into our culture because of the types of sinful people we have attracted and the behavior which our political and economic system has stressed and rewarded.

First, there is the matter of Columbus himself: a self-made entrepreneur with an appetite for power and a knack for getting what he wanted. This is initially appealing to most Americans, if not simply for the fact that he was a self-starter. Professional covetousness at its finest.

But what about the sarcastic, if not somewhat deserved, backlash? Is it not reflective of a worldview that sees itself as the pinnacle of human existence, with zero tolerance for intolerance? While it is no secret that Columbus did some reprehensible things, the American pride needs to demonize in order to maintain a sense of rightness. Regardless of any noble historical reasons for implementing Columbus Day, the American pride cannot handle objectivity.

And while many of these cultural sins are rooted in honest values (e.g., freedom, self-respect, progress), the American flesh has not allowed for an objective, truth-oriented understanding of the outstanding sins and accomplishments of Columbus.

Or maybe the problem is that Twitter has turned us all into robotic cynical quip-generators…

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