This year, the police in NYC are guarding the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle 24/7, in light of recent incidents involving Confederate statues in other states. Apparently this statue and another in the park have been defaced recently. I’m all for the petty vandalism. I’m not necessarily in favor of the outright removal of the statue by everyday citizens because I don’t want anyone to get hurt, and I think it does more damage to the cause than good. The city government taking it down would be a greater victory. Here’s why I’d like to see it taken down:
Columbus was an idiot and a slaver and we were lied to as children. He never set foot on anything that would belong to the United States of America. He never admitted he was wrong, and if he’d been right he would have died in the middle of an ocean so much larger than he’d ever envisioned. He didn’t prove that Earth is round. We’ve accepted this since ancient Greece. Well, most of us have. He kicked off the bloodshed that would eventually lead to the founding of America, a country built on the backs of dead indigenous people and Africans. It’s blood all the way down.
None of this is really up for debate. The man’s diary itself is available, and immediately upon seeing the natives of Hispaniola he starts envisioning how they can be used to his advantage. He was a terrible person. Take two minutes to read about the man; it’s probably all you’ll need and all you can manage.
So why, then, are so many people so resistant to the truth about Columbus? Why the clinging to a mythical tradition? I think, much like Columbus, much like anyone who’s done or said something wrong, it’s very difficult to admit being wrong. It’s OK that we’re wrong about this. We’re taught this as children by people who learned it as children in a neverending cycle. I want to break that cycle. I want to stop teaching myths about the founding of this country to children. Columbus wasn’t brave, he was terrible. He was stupid. The Civil War was absolutely fought over slavery. The economy of America absolutely depended on a workforce of people treated as property. These are tragedies and there’s nothing that can be done about them. We can’t go back in time and bring back to life the millions of indigenous people wiped out by disease and war upon the arrival of the Europeans. We can’t go back in time and stop slavery in its tracks when the first slave ship arrives on American shores in 1619. These things happened and they are finished, etched in time. However, we still feel their effects today. African Americans have been legally defined as second-class humans since the writing of the Constitution until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and socially so until the present day. Acknowledging this fact will help us right the wrongs of today. Native Americans have been pushed to the sidelines, to the brink of extinction, yet still they hold the ground they stand on and fight for recognition. We can listen to them.
The myths we are taught as children gloss over the violent and unfair history of this country, and until those myths cease being taught we will still sneer at those populations here who stand up and ask politely that the weapon of the state please stop killing them. The smallest step we could possibly take in that direction is to stop celebrating Christopher Columbus.