Abolish Columbus Day?

14.10.13October 13, 2014

Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of Jamaica on May 5, 1494. The Jamaican Tanos people went from sixty thousand to zero in fifty years. To replace the Tanos, Spaniards brought slaves from Africa. Because of a lack of perceived riches, the Spaniards were gone a 150 years after arriving.

The first Europeans to connect with West African coastal people were Portuguese traders. As the fifteenth century ended, Spanish, Dutch, British, and French had all established a presence in West Africa. The Berlin Conference on the Congo in 1884-85 created an all-out European scramble to claim and colonize West African land and peoples.

Well it is Columbus Day again. Isn’t that somewhat hard to believe? After all, if anyone of any consequence—person or group—thought the actions of Columbus were worth a damn, retailers would have had their promotions out a month ago. When I was in elementary school, few gave Columbus Day a second thought and there were promotions. Today, though, folk are beginning to believe Columbus Day needs replacement, say, with something along the line of Indigenous Day (The mayor of Seattle is signing to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day today.). Maybe that is good…

Little doubt the honoring of Columbus should end. But simple replacement should be given a lot more thought than it seems to be getting. The last thing I want is to make it easier for community to forget Columbus. Rather an open and honest conversation about Columbus, his actions, and the issues attributed to him is critical. I fear that dropping Columbus Day and replacing it with something like Indigenous Day is an easy way out and one that serves racist structures well. Such action could easily have the American population—Native and non-Native—believe they have “arrived” and the meaningful work to end the oppression of indigenous people would stop.

Though Christian Doctrine of Discovery Day is not going to get traction any time soon (I really cannot imagine it ever gaining traction), I like the idea. Such a day a day would call for America’s folk to deal with their history and the current manifestations of colonization. More so, it does not honor or dis-honor one particular ethnic population but calls America’s people to grabble with the realization the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) has damaged every population of America.

Worldwide the DoD is known as an indigenous issue and it is. However, from a U.S. perspective the damaging effects of the DoD have injured every American soul. Folk often prefer the simple—Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day—but the hideousness of the DoD and its racist structure intersects with the life of every American.

Reading the opening comments from a modern context sheds light on how the DoD begins as an indigenous issue but morphs into an everyone reality. European positioning in Jamaica and West Africa, for instance, initially slammed indigenous people. In the very next moment, these people became chattel for the U.S. slave trade. The DoD provided the Christian and governmental arguments to have white Europeans (and their American descendants) believe themselves chosen people and “better than” their indigenous neighbors, which led to their neighbors enslavement. Thus, the DoD gave white Americans ethical, moral, and religious arguments to support and encourage the West African slave trade.

The kicker is, by the time chattel slavery is abolished in the U.S., the ethical, moral, religious surety of white superiority, in the form of racism, is embedded in the mindset of the American landscape. Racism has come to benefit white political, business, and religious structures so well, that every one of them support the continued subjugation of black people. This is apparent as the 19th century closes in the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson. Legal and open segregation continues for the next half century. Finally, the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education ends legal segregation, but the embedded racism that subjugates black people does not. The DoD’s continued subjugation of black people is visible in the current era in community support of and normalization of the private prison system. Michelle Alexander makes note of today’s structural racsim in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, where she notes in her introduction, “in some cities more than half of all young adult black men are currently under correctional control—in prison or jail, on probation or parole.” The business of subjugation is alive and well.

Little doubt Columbus Day is an antiquated holiday which supports racism in the America’s and it needs abolishing. However, if it is to be replaced, the replacement should loudly call the people of the America’s to pay attention to modern subjugation practices, and call them tirelessly tease out and eliminate all facets of racism in the political, business, and religious (etcetera) structures of the American landscape. What this day might be called is anyone’s guess, but to be meaningful, the change must be the first step of ending American landscape subjugation, not the last.

[Photo is from the blog AS THE CROW FLIES: http://wp.me/p3zBVr-1s]

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