Columbus, Clemson, and the Perpetually Offended (UPDATED)

Columbus, Clemson, and the Perpetually Offended (UPDATED) October 12, 2015

Sebastiano del Piombo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sebastiano del Piombo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today, October 12, is Columbus Day. Except for the fact that the mail didn’t come, I hardly noticed.

In the 1950s, Columbus Day was a pretty big deal in America: Flags waved, offices were closed, parades marched down Main Streets in countless small towns, and schoolchildren learned about the hero explorer whose fleet–the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria–made landfall in the Americas in 1492.

After the Fourth of July, October 12 was our nation’s second birthday celebration– because it was on this date, we learned, that Christopher Columbus had discovered America. Thinking that he’d arrived in the East Indies, Columbus called the native peoples he encountered “Indians.”

Oh, we knew there had been native Americans here all along. We honored them, too, on Thanksgiving Day–when the Indians shared center stage with the Pilgrims, the early settlers. Perhaps our understanding of the New World discovered by the fifteenth century explorers was not precisely correct–but no harm was intended, no offense was taken. Columbus Day, which was established as a federal holiday by Congress in 1934, celebrated the long tradition of cultural exchange between America and Europe, recognized an iconic explorer, and was a source of pride especially among Italian-Americans.

But that was then…and this is now.

Today, there is a move to silence the celebrations and to shame those who still think that the exploration of the New World was a good thing. In 1990, South Dakota renamed Columbus Day–instead celebrating the official state holiday of Native American Day. Following the city of Berkeley, California, which renamed the holiday “Indigenous Peoples Day” in 1992, native communities in the American Southwest have persuaded the Albuquerque City Council to replace the traditional holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day. An advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders called for Congress to repeal the holiday.

Even cities which have not renamed the day have faced opposition when they tried to celebrate our American heritage: In 1992, the year which marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ successful voyage across the sea, Denver’s Columbus Day parade was blocked for hours by protesters. Denver’s city officials were so intimidated that they didn’t schedule another parade for eight years.

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Image:  Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Which brings us to Clemson University, in South Carolina’s upstate. The state is known for its Southern manners as much as for its shrimp and grits, but that didn’t stop one student from protesting a popular and long-standing dining tradition called “Maximum Mexican.” Cafeteria employees had the nerve to–horrors!–wear sombreros, and the cafeteria was festooned with other Mexican-themed decorations.

All of that wasn’t funny to “Amanda A” (@xoclemsonpanda), who tweeted her outrage on Wednesday:

“Really @ClemsonUniv?! @ClemsonPrez I thought your focus was #Diversity #CUFiestaFiasco #CUlturallyInsensitive”

According to The Blaze, Clemson University apologized the next day–issuing a tweet to “anyone who was offended.”

“Our intention was to celebrate Mexican cuisine, which is a student favorite on campus. We will review future programming and partner with the campus community to create events that more appropriately represent food and culture,” a statement from the university read.

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 In September 2015, The Atlantic carried an article titled “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt make the claim that in the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. That demand, they argue, is disastrous for education, and for mental health. They offer some shocking examples:

  • Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress.
  • In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Educationdescribing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her.
  • In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said.

The authors report that a number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses because of the risk of protests. Both Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the over-sensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

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In the two cases cited above, the Columbus Day holiday and Clemson’s “Maximum Mexican” ethnic dinner, the complainants were a small minority.

  • In the case of the Columbus Day celebrations, the percentage of American citizens who are native American is only 2 percent–and that number drops to less than 1 percent when one considers only purebred native Americans, not those who have other races and nationalities in their heritage.
  • At Clemson, only one person complained; other students loved the Mexican food, thought the festival was a good time, and they were “offended by her being offended.”

Please understand:  I am NOT advocating for insulting a minority group or individual. What I am suggesting, however, is that people really need to lighten up! And the rest of the nation should not willingly give up its story in order to salve the tender psyches of those who imagine they are being oppressed.

In the 2006 Mel Gibson film Apocalypto, Christian missionaries arrived in the New World to save the natives from a culture of death that celebrated beheadings and human sacrifices to pagan gods. Gibson explained that he based the dramatic landing scene near the end of the movie on the fourth expedition of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. Today, however, that noble expedition is an embarrassment to many Americans who once appreciated the risks taken and sacrifices made by Columbus and his crew of fearless explorers.

As the day draws to a close, let us remember the brave explorer who brought news of the new continent back to Europe, and who initiated the relationship between inhabitants of the two major landmasses.

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UPDATE:  One more shameful example of the extent to which anti-Columbus factions will go:

Today in the city of Detroit, a statue of Christopher Columbus has been vandalized, a “bloody” axe left jutting from its damaged head and red paint running down the front of the statue from the cleft in the skull. The statue was presented as a gift to Detroit from “The Italians of Detroit” on this date in 1910.  Since that time, it’s stood at Jefferson and Randolph.

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  • Christopher Columbus remains a hero to me. But then I am a proud Italian-American. I love the title you gave them: the perpetually offended. Yes, absolutely.

  • Lark62

    You are talking about 2 different things. I agree with you about the over reactions on college campuses. Education is about being exposed to new ideas, some a person will accept, some they will disagree with. There is no freedom of speech without freedom to offend and be offended. We all need to be exposed to ideas that make us uncomfortable.

    Columbus is a different issue. Columbus launched an era of genocide. It is estimated that Native American populations fell by 90% as a result of the coming of Europeans. To celebrate Columbus without acknowledging the devastation in is his wake is a bit sick. Yes, in the hyper patriotic 1950s, when all society was middle class, white, and popped out of a black and white sitcom, Columbus was celebrated. That image of reality isn’t true and wasn’t true then. Honesty is a good thing. Columbus brought devastation. We can celebrate explorers and exploration. But one does not need to be Native American to feel anger at the systematic exploitation of inginenous people or profound grief over the losses they suffered. We are all human. Their loss is my loss too.

    In fact, uncomfortable discussion about whether and how to celebrate Columbus are the opposite of the restriction of speech on college campuses.

    • “Columbus launched an era of genocide.” Where and how did he do that? Did the conquistadores that followed actually cite Columbus as a model? Columbus did no such thing. You’re confusing subsequent European conduct to a root cause that doesn’t exist.

      • Lark62

        I meant what I said. The period of time that began with Columbus coming to the Americas was one of unrelenting brutality and genocide. No indigenous people, and in fact no person with an ounce of compassion, would celebrate the impact of Columbus’ “discovery” on the people already inhabiting these continents.

        This is aside from the brutality exhibited by Columbus personally. A large percentage of the Taino people of Hispaniola died as a result of forced labor, mass slaughter, rape, war and disease. Similar devastation occurred to the Arawak people.

        You need to find a better Italian hero. There are plenty.

        • The39%Majority

          Most of the deaths of Indians were the result of small pox , Columbus had nothing to do with it.

          • Lark62

            You forgot to mention torture, selling little girls as sex slaves (9 to 10 year olds preferred), “games” where Indians were forced to fight dogs in a pit, to the death, forced labor, and mass slaughter.

            Columbus was taken back to Spain in chains, along with his brothers, because the brutality was too much even for Spain. They managed to talk their way out, but he was never again allowed to govern.

          • Rob B.

            Please feel free to cite your sources at any time, Lark62. I think that those who argue with you would prefer primary source documents that aren’t the result of the bias that Ms Schiffer discusses here.

            Here’s an online collection of such source material to get you started:


          • eddie too

            but those serene and innocent aboriginal americans never ever tortured each other or enslaved each other or raped each other, nope. they were above reproach.
            they never fought with the Europeans. they were totally and undeniably taken advantage despite never ever doing anything wrong.
            some story your are telling.

          • Lark62

            Well, then I guess murder, rape and torture are okay

        • To blame Columbus for what happened afterward is a fallacy. Whatever failings a person has, do not detract from his accomplishments. Otherwise there are quite a few heroes who would be reassessed.

          • Lark62

            Read up about Columbus. He was brutal and sadistic, beyond even what was normal for his time.

            Celebrating the arrival of Europeans to the Americas without acknowledging the devastation they brought is bigoted and severely lacking in compassion. “Europeans prospered. That’s what matters. Too bad about all those native American cultures and millions and millions of lives” is a bit heartless, dontcha think?

            Celebrating Columbus the man is repugnant.

          • Bigoted? LOL, it didn’t take you very long to get to an ad hominem attack. He who calls people names in a discussion loses. Buzz off.

          • Lark62

            The action of rejoicing in something that benefited my group while glossing over the extreme harm that thing caused to members of another group is a bigoted action. (Actually, bigoted* isn’t the exact right concept, but was as close as I could get. I couldn’t find a word that captured perfectly what I wanted to say. )

            It is the action I was addressing, not you personally. A person who is not bigoted can have blindspots and do or say bigoted things. Myself and pretty much every other human on this planet included.

            * Edit – “tribalism” might be closer to what I was getting at.

          • OK, fair enough. Let’s just agree to disagree on Columbus.

          • Phil Steinacker

            You have zero credibility. Yes, Columbus wasn’t a good administrator and got in trouble, but NOT because Spain gave a hoot about such wild accusations. The rest of your charges are trumped-up nonsense.
            You know how to parrot the mindless left-wing anti-American tripe. Drinking a lot of Kool-Aid, aren’t you?

          • eddie too

            depends on what you believe since none of us were there.

            sources are very important when making judgments about history.
            I do not believe the aboriginal people of America would have been better off being left stone age savages.

    • sei2011 .

      So I was just reading up on the Island Caribe people, because another blogger who was shilling for Columbus had labelled them a vicious bunch of murderous cannibals. Here’s what I learned from the WIki article: “In 1503, Queen Isabella ruled that only people who were better off under slavery (a definition which explicitly included cannibals) could legally be taken as slaves.”

      Guess what happened next? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

      • Lark62

        Quite the coincidence.

      • Phil Steinacker

        Wiki is a completely disreputable source, having been the object of a number of concentrated campaigns to “correct” its content according to progressive canons. It’s only slightly less reliable than the pseudo-academic tripe at Fordham and other progressive-dominated universities masquerading as “higher” education while brain-washing the minds of young students into becoming the mush-bowls they turn out at “graduation.”

        Get real.

  • kathyschiffer

    IMPORTANT UPDATE: To all of you who have bought the media spin calumnizing Christopher Columbus, please take a minute to look at the new video by Al Kresta, head of Ave Maria Radio, on this topic. He responds to the charges so much more specifically than I have in my article–You really shouldn’t miss it.

    • sei2011 .

      OK, so I got exactly this far, I mean past all the “Don’t judge Columbus by twentieth century standards” garbage:

      “Columbus… believed that he was born in the providence of God to launch a crusade to conquer Jerusalem in order to prepare for the second coming of Christ before the end of the age. The quest for the fabled gold? It was a means to the end of his grand missionary enterprise.”

      And you folks think that this is to his credit? That this in some way redeems his earlier horrid behavior?


      I’ll go back and watch the rest sometime later. Right now I have to take a breather. That’s about as much bigotry as I can handle this early in the morning.

      • Phil Steinacker

        You presume to judge ANYONE – previous centuries or in the present?

        You dismiss without substantive comment the “Don’t judge Columbus by twentieth century standards” argument, which is a MAJOR FAIL on your part.

        The truth is that such attitudes had been par for the human course for many centuries throughout most cultures across the globe, NONE OF WHICH were so enlightened as you.

        It would be ironic justice for you and movements you support to be roundly condemned for violating moral principles unknown to you now, but manufactured over the decades and centuries after your demise. Too bad you won’t be around to experience it, or to be able to defend yourself against those who condemn you from the convenient perch of afterthought.

        If it is true you have a doctorate, then your insolent and hubristic commentary here is a scary illustration of the cess-pool called higher education.

        I hope you are never permitted to teach” or serve in political office. You may need to be removed in either case.

        • What if we judge him on his own time’s standards then?

          Columbus was appointed governor of Hispaniola, and it didn’t take more than a few years for reports of abuses of power to the tune of tyranny and reports of torture to filter back to the Spanish Crown, who removed him from power fairly quickly. He and his men, whether through disease, forced labor, mass killings or suicide of the natives, rather than live under Spanish rule, effectively genocided the native people of the island.

          Columbus and his brothers were ordered back to Spain and *jailed* for crimes, but later freed by Ferdinand.

          He is a war criminal, by 15th, 16th century and modern standards.

          • eddie too

            maybe Columbus was released because his conviction was based on false evidence.


            Cui bono? Who benefits from Columbus’ release?
            The Spanish Crown did, by the wealth generated by Columbus’ actions, perfectly able to overlook war crimes if it made their nation rich.

    • sei2011 .

      He responds to the charges so much more specifically…

      He did not “respond to the charges”. He just served up a pile of “who cares” slathered with a huge ladle of “yay Catholicism” sauce.

      What a hack.

      • Rob B.

        I’ll give you the same advice I gave Lark62: go back to the primary source material and discuss the actual flaws in this approach. Otherwise, you are spouting just as much wind as those you accuse here.

        I think we can all expect a little better from a poster who claims to have a doctorate in science…

        • sei2011 .


          OK fine. From Columbus’ journals which you linked below. I shall skim and extract examples of nasty behavior and attitudes. Starting right on Oct. 11, 1492, here are the first words CC uses to describe their first encounter with the natives:

          “As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force…”

          Gosh that’s nice. How very Christian of you, Christopher.

          From that low point it goes further downhill, very quickly:

          “It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants …”

          “If it please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your Highnesses….”

          That’s just on the first day. His mind is already focused on themes of dehumanizing and conquering and dominating and enslaving and kidnapping.

          Welp, there goes half an hour of my day. Better things to do. Bye!

          • Rob B.

            Well, at least now people know that you’re not just talking out of your butt. Tah!

          • sei2011 .


          • eddie too

            judging the past by today’s standards (many of which are irrational, for example our willingness to deny the humanity of the pre-born wherein in the usa alone over fifty million innocent children have been legally murdered) is about as absurd a situation as can be imagined.
            why are we not focusing on the ongoing murders of innocent pre-born children rather than judging people by standards that did not exist in their times?

        • sei2011 .

          The next entry, Oct. 13, he endeavors to determine if the natives know where the gold and jewels are. “They came loaded with balls of cotton, parrots, javelins, and other things too numerous to mention; these they exchanged for whatever we chose to give them. I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold.”

          I almost want to cry, reading this and knowing what will happen to these people.

          Sunday, 14 Oct, 1492. “I discovered a tongue of land which appeared like an island though it was not, but might be cut through and made so in two days; it contained six houses. I do not, however, see the necessity of fortifying the place, as the people here are simple in war-like matters, as your Highnesses will see by those seven which I have ordered to be taken and carried to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose to have them all transported to Castile, or held captive in the island. I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.

        • sei2011 .

          15 Oct, 1492: “About sunset we anchored near the cape which terminates the island towards the west to enquire for gold, for the natives we had taken from San Salvador told me that the people here wore golden bracelets upon their arms and legs. I believed pretty confidently that they had invented this story in order to find means to escape from us, still I determined to pass none of these islands without taking possession, because being once taken, it would answer for all times. We anchored and remained till Tuesday, when at daybreak I went ashore with the boats armed. The people we found naked like those of San Salvador, and of the same disposition. They suffered us to traverse the island, and gave us what we asked of them. As the wind blew southeast upon the shore where the vessels lay, I determined not to remain, and set out for the ship. A large canoe being near the caravel Nina, one of the San Salvador natives leaped overboard and swam to her; (another had made his escape the night before,) the canoe being reached by the fugitive, the natives rowed for the land too swiftly to be overtaken; having landed, some of my men went ashore in pursuit of them, when they abandoned the canoe and fled with precipitation…”

  • cminca

    Kathy–would you expect the Catholic Church to celebrate “Martin Luther Day”?

    • Zachary

      cmica, the Catholic Church basically is planning to do so with joint ‘celebrations’ with Lutherans on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation/Rebellion.

      • cminca

        Yes–but a lot can happen before 2017. I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • Ann Smith

    I always boycott the Columbus Day parade in our town. Not only because he and his crew slaughtered our native peoples but also because he was Greek. Look up Columbus being from the island of Cairos (not sure of the spelling). This island was an Italian possession and part of the Genovese state, so technically, Columbus was a Genovese. But he was not the Columbus by the same name who hailed from the city of Genoa. The whole thing is so cracked that I just can’t celebrate with a bunch of misinformed kooks.