Why Do We Cling To Columbus? What Do We Have To Lose?

Why Do We Cling To Columbus? What Do We Have To Lose? October 14, 2019

I was pleased to see that the whole-life social justice pro-life organization Rehumanize International had shared an article today, critiquing Columbus Day and calling for a celebration of indigenous peoples to take its place. I’m glad that once again this month, they’ve been trying to take a stand against the racism lurking in the pro-life movement. We desperately need people to do that.

I am sorry that I looked at the subsequent comment thread. We just got through two weeks of the pro-life movement sputtering that they’re not actually racist, they take racism very seriously: it’s just that one of their major celebrities had a bad day and decided to use racist slurs on a Black cleric in front of millions of people and then libeled another cleric of color when asked to apologize, that’s all. I finally thought it was time to start talking about something else other than racism in the pro-life movement. But here’s what the stalwart pro-lifers were commenting on Rehumanize’s thread:

 

There are probably more, but at this point I feel sick.

Do you guys hear yourselves?

Christopher Columbus was a human trafficker. That’s not an exaggeration; it’s a matter of historic record. He himself observed how the peaceable Native Americans made great slaves because they didn’t have weapons. He did it on purpose to make money.

We like to make fun of cancel culture, but don’t you think it might be okay to cancel somebody you thought was a cool explorer bringing Jesus to new nations, but was actually  human trafficker who sold nine-year-old girls for sex?

Imagine if your parish priest got caught red-handed selling your nine-year-old daughter or niece or other family member into prostitution. Imagine that he himself admitted that that’s what he was doing, that he did it to her because she was so peaceful he thought it would be easy, and that he did it for the money. Think what you’d want to do to that man. Think about what you’d feel like if you walked into Mass one day and saw him celebrating the liturgy, all decked out in a beautiful chausible. Imagine the feeling in the pit of your stomach if you saw his photo in a place of honor in the church. Picture coming across a church bulletin advertising a party in his honor to celebrate all the good things he did. And imagine what would happen if you tried to report him for his bad behavior, but the bishop said we had to go on celebrating him because so many people had fond ideas about the things he’d done to improve the parish. Imagine that the bishop told you he’s sick of self-loathing Catholics and you shouldn’t be politically correct.

That’s how indigenous people feel about Columbus Day, and it’s how everyone else should feel about it too. Especially if you claim to value human life from womb to tomb. Indigenous people are human.

Why are people so attached to Christopher Columbus, anyway? Columbus isn’t a saint. Nobody I know is named after him. There are no churches I’ve ever seen in his honor. What would happen if we relegated him to the same uncomfortable bracket of history as the Conquistadors and the Spanish Inquisition and talked about something else? That wouldn’t even be taking responsibility responsibility for Columbus. It would just be being awkward about him as we’re awkward with those other parts of history. Some people dig in their heels and defend the Conquistadors and the Spanish Inquisiton, but we laugh at those people and we don’t have a day to celebrate the Spanish Inquisition. What if we did that for Columbus?

Why are they so attached to Columbus Day for that matter? As a holiday, Columbus Day stinks. There are no presents exchanged, no fireworks displays, no office gatherings where we play Yankee Swap. There are no special liturgies with candles in those funny funnel holders. Nobody invites you to an Ugly Columbus Day Sweater Party and judges you if buy one from a store instead of decorating it yourself. A very few municipalities have a parade, but it’s not a fun parade with people throwing dubloons and candy.

True, some people take Columbus Day as an excuse to make Italian food for dinner, but they do that on Saint Joseph’s Day as well for some reason. And besides, Italian food can be made at any day of the year. If I made myself a frosted gingerbread house in July, people would ask why I couldn’t wait til Christmas. If I get a wild hair to bake Ukrainian paska bread this week, they’d ask what church’s calendar celebrated Easter in October. But if I whip up arancini balls and lasagna bolognese next Saturday night, no one will tease me with “couldn’t you wait until Columbus Day?”

I know that the holiday, such as it is,  was originally developed to celebrate Italian-Americans, who were a marginalized community at the time. But Italian-Americans aren’t a marginalized community anymore, and Native Americans still are. Besides, there are quite a few Italian people in history who were never involved in genocide. We could celebrate one of them. We could celebrate a famous Italian who, unlike Columbus, actually lived in the United States. Here in Steubenville, for example, we celebrate the Dean Martin Festival every June, about the same weekend that other cities are having their pride parades. It’s genuinely fun, and I don’t say that about most things that go on in Steubenville. We have a 50s swing dance contest on the street, we have inflatable bouncy houses, there’s a tractor disguised as a train that pulls kids around Fort Steuben Park in little wagons, there’s a taco truck. It’s infinitely more fun than Columbus Day. And while Dean Martin was far from a perfect person, he was a paragon compared with Christopher Columbus. Why can’t we go national with Steubenville’s celebration and have a Dino Paul Crocetti Day nationwide?

Of course that would be ridiculously silly. But Columbus day is worse than silly. It’s offensive, and it’s no fun anyway.

Of course, we could celebrate indigenous peoples on this day, as many municipalities are already doing. No, that wouldn’t be as lighthearted as Dino Crocetti Day, considering the shameful things that were done to indigenous peoples which will have to be remembered and repented of as a nation. But then again, it would be just. Justice for all is something Americans are supposed to like.

There is no reason Columbus Day couldn’t be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day, or any other kind of day for that matter.

We have nothing whatsoever to lose.

That’s not the best reason to stop honoring Columbus, but it’s certainly another mark in its favor. Why is it difficult to stop doing a bad thing when stopping will cost us nothing?

Unless, of course, you’re just doing this to rub it in the faces of Native Americans and hurt them.

Tragically, there’s a pretty long-standing American tradition of that as well.

But is it a tradition that really needs to go on?

 

(image via Pixabay)

 

 

 

 

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