History is often dumbed down for kids. America is awesome and never wrong. Instead, the British were bad, the South was bad, the Germans were bad, etc. The founding of our country in particular is glorified as saving this unknown continent from a life without civilization.
We all know it: in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Thinking he was headed towards India, Columbus stumbled upon an entirely new continent. Yet he never admitted the discovery, claiming that he had found the ocean route to the “East’s” riches instead of massive new land.
We never want to tell the full story. We don’t tell school children about the thousands of native people Columbus and his crew murdered through disease and violence. We don’t tell them how a lot of maps suggest Columbus knew exactly where he was going and it wasn’t India. And we don’t tell them about the people who stopped by the Americas well before 1492.
Leif Erikson is the more popular choice as the first European to land here. According to an online National Geographic article, archaeologists have found evidence of Viking settlements in North America (think Canada). One theory detailed by the History Channel suggests that Erikson was blown of course around 1000 C.E. while traveling from Iceland to Greenland and found his boat on North American shores. He and his fellow Vikings were only there for the winter, leaving as the temperature warmed, and never looked back.
Yet the real question is this: should we celebrate any holiday that promotes the conquering of another people? Columbus certainly changed the path for the world when he settled in Hispaniola and introduced colonization, but not in a positive, heartwarming way.
Even Erikson has issues. His popularity rose after anti-Italian and anti-Catholic proponents in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century sought for an alternative to Columbus who was not Italian or Catholic, according to National Geographic. Leif Erikson Day supporters were not championing a cause to dismiss a man who caused mass killings and sufferings; they were championing a cause to further divide the nation on race.
Some cities and states have chosen to ditch Columbus Day altogether. Last year, Seattle unanimously voted to change the holiday to Indigenous People’s Day. A city council member was quoted in the Seattle Times saying “This…allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.” Seattle is attempting to turn a hurtful day into a day of awareness of the pain our country and the path to its founding has and continues to cause other people.
Indeed, it is the defeat of the indigenous people the rest of us celebrate each Columbus Day. It is the victory of Europeans over the “uncivilized,” the victory of white people. Columbus Day is not a holiday that reflects our diverse nation, one shaped by people from all over the world. It is a holiday that reflects an expired view of history, a child’s view of history, which can no longer be allowed to continue.
Our campus should know the pain that comes from continued racism and discrimination, and if you don’t you really haven’t been listening. Columbus Day supports a white person’s patriotic view on American history, a false view of history. It is an understanding that must be altered if we are to grow as a country and learn from our past, and continuing, faults.
Sausser is a senior English writing major from Indianapolis, Indiana.