EDITORIAL: He destroyed more than he discovered
Christopher Columbus’s true narrative should be learned
“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain. He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain …”
Rutgers doesn’t cancel classes for Columbus Day, so for those who didn’t notice, Columbus Day was last Monday. Other than a shopping spree at Macy’s for the avid consumer to hunt down sales, this federal holiday isn’t the most popular nor does it generate a magnitude of excitement comparable to that of Halloween, Valentine’s Day or one of the December holidays. If anything, Columbus Day is a period rife with contestations as some devoutly celebrate the day, like the people who attend the Annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City, and some are ashamed of the holiday and protest it, like the Rutgers organization All Marxist-Leninist Union (AMLU) at the steps of Brower Commons. It’s a peculiar holiday.
Experiencing Columbus Day during college reminds you of how far your education has taken you and knowing that there are various interpretations of history — and that one is more accurate than the other. One is the version you were taught when you were young, the little melodic song about how Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Its lyrics say, “The Arakawa natives were very nice. They gave sailors food and spice. Columbus sailed on to find some gold, to bring back home as he’d been told. He made the trip again and again, trading gold to bring to Spain.” The facile lyrics do a disservice to society by notably leaving out Columbus’ crimes against humanity that consisted of selling underage girls to sexual slavery, cutting off hands of natives who didn’t reach his desired gold quota, giving Arakawa natives’ babies to dogs when they ran out of meat, widespread slavery and the decimation of a civilization. Of course, these disgusting and petrifying stories are not ones to tell children, but it doesn’t excuse songs indoctrinating children with false ideas that Columbus was “brave” and “bright.” Distilled versions can be taught to explain the reality of how he was evil and cruel, a version closer to the truth.
It is arguable that Columbus Day is the least of people’s worries. There are certainly more pressing issues to divert your attention toward, be it the Syrian Civil War, the economy or the ways you’re going to have to pay off your tuition, because at the end of the day you can choose to celebrate or not celebrate Columbus Day. It’s not a big deal, right?
Yet the national commemoration of a man who is the exemplar of a villain implies that Americans do not value the truth or a respectable education, and it perpetuates the pain of the United States current Native American population. Less than 1 percent of Rutgers’ students are Native Americans and about 2 percent of the United States’ population are Native American. There might be very few of them, but that’s because their people were exploited, displaced and massacred over time and that history of abuse is celebrated annually through Columbus Day. It is not commonly perceived that way, but it should be. Christopher Columbus did not have any noble achievement and he regressed, rather than advanced, the quality of humanity.
The holiday can remain, but with a better name not after a genocidal leader. It should be a day to educate and remind citizens about the history of this country and what occurred on U.S. soil. The United States and its land might have had a checkered past, but that is every country. Owning up to its history is the first step of making this country better in the future.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.