By Jamaal Smith, Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
Every October, America, along with other countries across the globe, continues to celebrate Columbus Day, in recognition of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas on October 12, 1492. The earliest celebration of Columbus’ voyage is recorded as early as 1792 by the Tamman Society in New York City and Massachusetts Historical Society. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison called upon American people to ‘celebrate Columbus’ landing in the “New World”.’ That same year, education and religious leaders used this celebration as a means to teach about patriotism, using such themes as citizenship boundaries, loyalty to nation, and social progress. Why do those themes sound so familiar?
Before we continue, we must define patriotism. The definition of patriotism is “the love and devotion to one’s homeland and a sense of alliance with people who share the same values”. Those values include equality, freedom, justice, and the recognition of humanity. So, can anyone tell me how the genocidal conquest of the indigenous people in this so-called New World is a reflection of the aforementioned values? How the murder, rape, and torture of millions of Native Americans reflect equality, justice, or freedom in any way? How easily we forget the Trail of Tears and Columbus’ long-reaching impact on President Andrew Jackson’s “Indian Removal” policy nearly 400 years later. None of these acts reflect the perceived American values, yet Columbus is still honored and celebrated in many states across the country.
Another component of patriotism is accountability. When your homeland strays away from its core values, it is one’s duty to help lead it back. This will require honest dialogue about the continued perpetuation of moral malpractice. Murder is immoral. Genocide is immoral. Crimes against humanity are immoral. Columbus was guilty of committing every single one of these egregious acts, yet he is still regarded with great respect in many circles. Some institutions even close for the day as a symbol of recognizing a known murderer. So is it time that we acknowledge conquer and divide, greed, colonialism, and domination within the foundation of American values? Because this would at least validate the continued recognition and celebration of one Christopher Columbus.
The African Diaspora or Transatlantic Slave Trade, Trail of Tears, Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, Japanese internment camps, and Latinx-American discrimination practices post Mexican-American were all perpetuated on the “land of the free”. To continue uplifting Christopher Columbus Day annually is not only insulting and demoralizing to the indigenous people, but to all of the communities of color whose ancestors were subjugated to these unjust acts. In 2018, those same acts have not ended, but only modernized. The time is now for America to be honest with itself and recognize its historical lack of moral integrity. It is impossible to move on without the willingness to accept complicity or direct perpetuation of oppression. This is why bigotry and intolerance are still present. The roots which created these behaviors are still deep within American soil. To continue the façade of authentic inclusion, equality, justice and freedom elevates patriotic hypocrisy so long as Christopher Columbus remains an October fixture.
If we want reconciliation, we need truth.