I don’t believe in holding historical figures to our modern standards, but I also don’t believe in celebrating shameful chapters of history. It’s important to study the past from every angle and to acknowledge the parts of it that make us uncomfortable along with the parts we want to glorify.
There was a bravery to the life of Christopher Columbus, the explorer, in sailing across the ocean in a direction that none of his people had ever sailed before. Columbus was acting in accordance with his time and his station in life, and according to the morality of his culture; by the standards of the time, he deserved glory and accolades for his success. Yet, there can be no bravery in the exploitation of people who couldn’t compete with him in terms of weaponry, and were unaware that his overtures, designed to gain their trust, did not reflect truly friendly intent.
There’s no honor in being the progenitor of the American slave trade.
We can’t hold Columbus entirely responsible for the genocide on the mainland, and yet his arrival in the western hemisphere still marks the beginning of the subjugation of native people in the Americas by white people of European descent. It’s 2015, and I don’t think we should be teaching schoolchildren a happy cartoon story about what happened in 1492 without discussing the enslavement and eventual murder of most of the continent’s original occupants. I don’t think we should celebrate Columbus Day as a national holiday. I think it’s a lot more honest to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and talk about what really happened, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
I like a day off as much as the next person. It just seems like we should be more careful with our shared history, and more conscious of how our decision to frame that narrative reflects on our culture, and on people who continue to experience racism and oppression as a result of the brutality of history.