Your Faves are Problematic – Christopher Columbus.

Okay maybe the title is misleading – I’m not entirely sure if Christopher Columbus is anyone’s favorite but the main point is that that he was super problematic and there’s a lot more to his ‘discovery’ of the new world than many (or at least I) learned in school. The Oatmeal actually has a really great comic about a more truthful version of what happened in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue (including the fact that no one really thought the world was flat).

Columbus is often credited for ‘discovering’ the Americas, a feat that has actually got him a national holiday. But the thing is, Columbus wasn’t the first to arrive in the new world – hell, some argue that he wasn’t really even the first European to get there.  Not only were there people already living on the islands and land in the new world, there were others that had traveled to different parts as well.  There are claims that the Chinese explorer Zheng He beat Columbus to the Americas (although that has some controversy to it). And Leif Erikson might have actually founded a Norse village in Newfoundland some 500 years before Columbus even made it to the New World.

And it’s important to recognize that there were people here in the Americas before Columbus brought in the Age of Discovery. One book titled 1491 describes the Americas before Columbus and talks about how the population of the Americas might have actually been equal to or larger than the European population. (One study even found that there was significant facial variation in pre-Columbia Americas.) David M. Perry wrote an opinion piece about describing Christopher Columbus to children in the face of the failing education system, saying among other things that:

The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean … were used to hosting strange arrivals from all over the Americas in their towns … Their settlements were decades or even centuries old, built in part on transcontinental trade, and Columbus did not seem so outlandish. These were settled lands with rich societies, not, as often depicted, simple or primitive.

I could go on and on and on about the amazing and thriving cultures and societies that existed and thrived in the Americas before the Age of Discovery but for now I’ll keep focus on Christopher Columbus himself. To be honest, what is truly a part of Columbus’ legacy is slavery and colonialism because Columbus enslaved an incredible amount of the native populations he encountered and colonized much of the land for Spain. Eric Kasum wrote about the true legacy of Columbus, highlighting the cruelty, slavery, and colonialism that came with his ‘discovery’ of the new world. Native American Netroots also wrote about Columbus’ crimes against humanity, also highlighting the intense cruelty of the man.

It’s incredibly important to stop erasing history and realize that there are more than enough lies continuously told to keep up the status quo in the US. And rather than celebrate a man whose legacy is truly cruel, we should be celebrating the indigenous cultures that still exist and thrive here in the Americas. So on October 12th this year, I won’t be celebrating Columbus Day.

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