May 24, 2019 | 60° F

VACCHIANO: Leftist criticism of Columbus Day is anti-historical

Opinions Column: Tory Time

I will preface this column by asserting that genocide is bad. Columbus, by both intentionally and unintentionally killing the Lucayan, Taíno, and Arawak and Cigüayo tribes, ruined their societies. Native American citizens in the United States today have had to endure systematic injustices for centuries because Europeans decided to intrude on their land, extract their resources and enslave their populations. I see this as unjust because, as a libertarian, autonomy is one of my most fundamental beliefs — but I’m also a history major, and so I find some of this week’s criticisms of Columbus less valid than others.

Take Rutgers’ own All Marxist-Leninist Union on the list of invalid criticisms. At the recent protest, one member told The Daily Targum that it is “historically-revisionist to claim that (Columbus) discovered a land already inhabited by millions of people.” First, it’s hilarious that a Marxist would criticize historical revisionism because Marxists revise history all the time. Secondly, historical revisionism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Merriam Webster defines it as “support of ideas and beliefs that differ from and try to change accepted ideas and beliefs.” Thirdly, the narrative that Columbus “discovered” the already-inhabited New World has largely been abandoned since the 1970’s. Why is this? Because of historical revisionism! There were other unfair criticisms of Rutgers on behalf of the All Marxist-Leninist Union, such as hammering the point that Rutgers “whitewashed” its implications with slavery even though the school established the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History in attempt to research and atone for this. All Marxist-Leninist Union also implied that it is Rutgers’ burden to educate every one of its students on the atrocities that Columbus inflicted, even though there are history classes that students can take if they have an interest in this. My First-year Interest Group History seminar, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class and History Workshop class all went into depth about Columbus’s legacy and weren’t even formal Native American history classes. There are many resources at Rutgers to learn more about Native American history.

The Targum board’s official editorial on Columbus Day presents an intelligent case but brought up popular criticisms that I find objectionable. For example, the claim that the popular children’s rhyme about Columbus, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” is a “disservice to society” because it does not go into detail about the violence that occurred is questionable. Not going into detail about chopping off natives’ hands and feeding their children to dogs (there is no primary document proving this), in a children’s rhyme is not a disservice to society. But the point was to criticize the oversimplification of history that’s being taught in schools – I see this as a non-issue in elementary education, where children don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the nuances of history, but a possible issue in secondary education. But even though Columbus was tyrannical, a projected 95 percent of native deaths were due to diseases that the Europeans carried over – still the Europeans’ fault, but there’s a moral difference between this type of contact and intentional genocide (i.e. Hitler). I think we can do more in elementary education to show how native populations were wiped out, but portraying Columbus as genocidal in childrens’ songs would be frivolous.

To abolish Columbus Day as a federal holiday, or at the very least give less credence to it, is a debate that I do not have strong feelings about. As someone whose grandparents immigrated from Italy, I understand the value that Columbus Day had to disenfranchised Italian immigrants earlier. I don’t feel that my Italian heritage is a barrier to me in society, so I understand why it can be considered an obsolete holiday. But the leftist criticisms of Columbus I’ve heard can be inconsistent at best and anti-historical at worst.

Andrea Vacchiano is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double-majoring in history and political science. Her column, "Tory Time," runs on alternate Fridays.

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Andrea Vacchiano

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