As we mark October 12th for the Italian explorer who "discovered" America, we reflect on an important question posed in a short video from comedian John Oliver: How is Columbus Day still a thing?
In some states, it is no longer an official holiday, or it is known as Discover’s Day, or Native American Day. In a growing number of municipalities, the holiday has been renamed Indigenous People’s Day as more Americans come to understand the brutal genocide that occurred in the colonization and establishment of our nation, and that Columbus shouldn't be celebrated at all.
Did Columbus discover America?
While he did make landfall in the Bahamas, Columbus never actually set foot on what would become known as the United States. In fact, there is ample evidence suggesting that the Vikings were the first Europeans to land in the Americas -- 500 years before Columbus’s voyage. All facts aside, it's hard to claim one discovered a "new" landmass when millions of people were already living on it.
How can Columbus claim discovery of a continent inhabited by millions of people?
It’s hard to know exactly how many Native Americans were living here in 1492 because indigenous people kept few written records and much of their cultures were annihilated. Estimates vary widely from 8.4 million up to 112.5 million people. Because they were non-Christian and non-white, they were not considered "persons" with rights, leaving Columbus free to claim their land (and their bodies) as his "discovery."
According to the 2010 Census, there are 5.2 million Native Americans living in the US and Alaska; 2.3 million are of mixed race.
How is Columbus Day still a thing?
Columbus Day is a reminder of the beginning of the enslavement of Native Americans and the attempted genocide of their peoples and their cultures. We should remember this, but not in the form of a celebration of the brutal individual who started it off. For most people though, the holiday has become little more than another excuse for big corporations to throw a sale.
As we fight to end corporate rule and make real the promise of American democracy, isn’t it time we ask ourselves if buying stuff on Columbus Day is an appropriate response to the stealing of land from its original inhabitants?
We'll be at work today, because Columbus Day isn't a holiday in our book.