Should America Celebrate Christopher Columbus Day?
On Oct. 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived on an island in the Bahamas archipelago and was credited with the discovery of the Americas. The subsequent collision between the Europeans and this New World engendered a massive exchange of goods, ideas and disease.
Now, the United States celebrates Columbus Day—but is the recognition of this day deserved?
Chiefly, the United States upholding Columbus day means favoring a white and European worldview. If the Columbus arrival is viewed through the perspective of Native Americans, then the day stands as a marker when vast amounts of their people perished through war, exploitation and disease. The amounts of Europeans and Africans in the Americas steadily grew, while Native American populations plummeted.
Though it proves tough to gauge how large the pre-European contact native population really was, geographer William Denevan derived from existing estimates a consensus of 54 million people living throughout the Americas. This population was reduced at least 90% through the end of the 17 century—death on a catastrophic scale.
What’s more, Columbus himself enslaved and murdered Native Americans. The sailor had an extensive career in the Americas, when he had no qualm with leveraging the lives of Native Americans for his own gain.
This is because Columbus was exceptionally greedy. This is the main reason why he decided to undertake the risk to find an alternative route to the Indies for the Spanish in the first place.
“Gold is most excellent; gold is treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world,” Columbus said in a letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
He “does all he wishes” to countless Native Americans, all for gold. The modern United States cannot support such morals.
Is this a man America should be celebrating?
More specifically, Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella appointed Columbus to be the Governor and Viceroy of the West Indies, which included administration of the Hispaniola colony. In due time, the court received complaints about tyranny and incompetence on the part of Columbus.
In 2006, a report was found in a state archive in the Spanish City of Valladolid which included testimonies of enemies and supporters of Columbus both. The 48-page report details the brutality of Columbus’ seven-year rule.
The document describes how Columbus put down native revolt with a crackdown in which many natives died, and then paraded their dismembered body parts through the streets to discourage further rebellion.
Columbus once punished a man found guilty of stealing corn by having his ears and nose cut off and then selling him off into slavery.
When a woman suggested Columbus was of lowly birth, his brother Bartolome ordered her to be paraded naked through the streets before having her tongue cut out. Columbus congratulated his brother on “defending the family,” according the the report.
These are but a few examples of a tyrannical and cruel man that America now celebrates.
Though, the argument arises that all people at times act badly, but if the positive overwhelms the negative, then all is well. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. repeatedly cheated on his wife, and there is evidence he was a serial plagiarizer—as he even copied on some of his doctoral dissertation. However, as he made countless strides for civil rights, this negativity is overlooked—as it very well should be.
On the contrary, with scrutiny, Columbus’ positive contributions to American history diminish.
First of all, Columbus did not actually discover “The New World.” Evidence shows that the Vikings, Polynesians, as well as, to a less likely extent, the Chinese and Africans all visited the Americas before Columbus and the Spanish. So, his base, most widely-known accomplishment has no ground on which to stand.
Columbus died never even admitting that he had discovered a new continent, upholding that he had reached the East Indies that he had set out for.
Secondly, Columbus was not a visionary who first hypothesized the world was not flat. This stood actually a widely known reality, argued as early as 2,000 years before Columbus was born by Pythagoras and his contemporary Greeks.
So Columbus’ one accomplishment was convincing the Spanish court to give him the ships to try out an alternate route to the Indies. The Italian sailer was smart to consider this alternative route, and his happening upon the Americas did help form the United States of today, but is this reason enough for Columbus to join MLK Jr. and Jesus Christ to have his own holiday? No. And a resounding one, at that. The day does not accurately reflect the values of this nation.