Sunday, October 10, 2010
Day 283- Columbus Day
Dear Mr. President,
I don't know if you've heard, but there's a culture war raging in America. A concerted effort by the socialist, America-hating liberals of our country to destroy a cherished American holiday. It's an outright war on Columbus Day. If there's one thing I learned, for sure, in my public school education, it's that distorting historical fact to disguise unsavory aspects of imperialism is our birthright as Americans. If the 4th of July is our annual opportunity to remind the British just how badly we beat them in the Revolutionary War, than surely Columbus Day's annual celebration of the (approximate) beginning of the Native American genocide is just as valid. (Because nothing says class like committing genocide and then celebrating it every year with department store sales.) Seriously, I can only imagine that, centuries from now, when the Germans are celebrating an annual day in commemoration of Hitler, some whiney liberals will be crying for political correctness and ruining every one's fun.
Ok, my Bill O'Reilly impression will only carry me so far. As a whiney liberal, I do find the celebration of our bloody, imperialist origins to be extremely offensive. Columbus and those that would follow him brought all of the hellish and most reprehensible practices of the imperial powers down on the indigenous people of this continent. I say this in full acknowledgement of my own European descent. I can't change what my ancestors did, and I probably can't even begin to make it right to the descendants of the survivors, but I don't have to participate in this stunningly insensitive display of pride in those crimes.
My long-standing distaste for this day is heightened this year by a class I'm taking on American Indians and US Law. It's only been a few weeks, and so our focus continues to be on the early legal decisions made by European colonists toward the Native people of the Americas. The paternalism, the absolute lack of regard for the very humanity of the Indigenous people turns my stomach with every new page and every new lecture. What really surprised me was how familiar it all seems. Twisting the law to justify unspeakable acts and align a violent imperial project with supposed Christian values, even in the language of the sixteenth century, reminds me strongly of the twisted justifications for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the torture of prisoners during interrogations. The reason we still celebrate Columbus Day is same reason we still commit these acts of violence; we have not learned from the mistakes of our history. We can't ever make it right, but the real tragedy is that we seem doomed, instead, to keep making it worse. And so our newspapers read like our history books, stories of blood and death with unenumerated body counts for those with skin too dark or names too strange for their deaths as individuals to move a writer to include them. No culture war, no tradition is worth celebrating this many lives lost or forever ruined. The only redemption that can be found in crimes this ancient and this awful is the wisdom that ought to instruct those of us alive today to avoid, not to repeat and certainly not to celebrate, the brutality of our ancestors.