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Columbus Day: Remind Me Again Why We Celebrate Murder and Genocide

By Danielle Sullivan |

columbus day, columbus day celebration, columbus discovered america, america discovered native american genocide, christopher columbus

How many times have you seen this on Facebook this week?

This photo has been circulating on Facebook for quite a few weeks now in preparation of today’s holiday, Columbus Day. While most post or share the photo in a joking manner, others feel strongly one way or another.

Many people are starkly divided between two camps: those who celebrate the day, Columbus himself and Italian Americans in general, and those who feel that Christopher Columbus’ torture, killings, and enslavement of Native Americans and other people was nothing but hideous and vile.

And then are those who just enjoy having the day off.

Over at HuffPo, Vito de la Cruz sums it up well:

Why Columbus’ shadow endures and exceeds that of others including, to some extent or another, the Tainos and Arawaks who were decimated within half a century of his arrival in the Caribbean is because his voyages accomplished two things. First, it publicized to European powers that there was a vast world within their grasp and that it was defended by people still using bows and arrows. Second, Columbus’ arrival and presence in the New World established the pattern of exploitation and genocide of Native peoples that became the norm to the present day.

As Cruz points out, Columbus wasn’t the first to discover the Americas, yet we celebrate him because he lead an assault on less powerful people that resulted in him claiming the land. Of course, the catch-22 is that we all now live on this land.

The Dave Matthews Band has a song about it, “Don’t Drink the Water” which I remember explaining to my son when he was very young and asked about the meaning behind the lyrics:

Your land is gone
And given me
And here I will spread my wings
Yes I will call this home
What’s this you say
You feel a right to remain
Then stay and I will bury you
What’s that you say
Your father’s spirit still lives in this place
I will silence you

And as you go I will spread my wings
Yes I will call this home
I have no time to justify to you
Fool you’re blind, move aside for me
All I can say to you my new neighbor
Is you must move on or I will bury you

On one other hand, I don’t think that those who celebrate the holiday willfully glorify death and genocide. I’m sure many people who take their kids to the parades and festivities do so with the intention of honoring our country in some way. Most people don’t voluntarily praise killings. Like so many other often polarizing subjects, there are always more shades of gray than black and white. You simply can’t say those against celebrating the holiday are anti-American just like you can’t say that those who celebrate the holiday are proponents of genocide.

Yet I wonder how we’d all feel about Christopher Columbus if he took over land today and killed thousands in the process. While we’re proud to live in America today, I think it’s possible to feel sick about how the land was founded. It’s sort of like learning that your ancestors were murderers.

I’m not convinced it’s something you’d celebrate.



Image: Facebook


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About Danielle Sullivan


Danielle Sullivan

Danielle Sullivan writes for Babble Pets. She is also an award-winning parenting writer, who authors a monthly column for NY Parenting and ASPCA Parents blog. You can read more of her work at her blog,Some Puppy To Love. Read bio and latest posts → Read Danielle's latest posts →

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14 thoughts on “Columbus Day: Remind Me Again Why We Celebrate Murder and Genocide

  1. goddess says:

    All a matter of how far back you go, I’d say. And that would put me totally at odds with the Germans (the Angles and Saxon tribes) and French (the Normans & Gauls) if I took up for my British side. Though my Irish side would probably be PO’ed at the English side. Not sure how any of them would feel about my Syrian parts.

  2. soren says:

    We celebrate murder and genocide because the Indian’s also practices murder and genocide… and they weren’t doing anything that useful with their land anyway.

  3. DanaD says:

    The difference is that Normans and the Saxons are not still killing the Britons and the Picts. We are still killing American Indians and their culture. Living in a state with a relatively large American Indian population, it is easy to see the effects of forced adoptions, boarding schools, land policies that tore reservations apart and removed any land value, and such. If these things were only a legacy of the past it might be easier to find solutions, but unfortunately we still perpatrate crimes against native peoples as evidenced by the huge disparities in child out-of-home placement rates, poverty rates, and not-employed rates on the reservations. It’s not like an entire people just up and said, “Hey! Let’s be lazy and abuse our kids.” The legacy of Columbus is still alive and well.

  4. goddess says:

    Ah but time is irrelevant when you believe in reincarnation ;-)

  5. Aishah Bowron says:

    I can’t believe that people are still glorifying and championing Christopher Columbus !. The man is a genocidal murderer and a transatlantic slave trafficker for God’s sake !. Columbus brought death, torture, violence and pain to the Americas !. The Columbus Day holiday must be abolished !.

  6. Tamara Svencer says:

    It is what it is. I love America but the way we claimed it was a lot less than perfect. We treated the Native Americans like they were less than humans. We over through them and moved them like a herd of cattle. We murdered women & children for the sake of having the new world. But in the literal white-wash of American history we somehow justify it because we gained control and built the great U.S.A…there are stains on the history of all great societies. The stain for us is that our country which was to be built on freedom and integrity was actually built on the blood, enslavement and total torturous removal of a cultural rich society of other people. We gave their children blankets infected with small pox for crying out loud to kill them…I just can’t celebrate this sort of behavior. I can’t go back and change anything but I refuse to glorify it.

  7. Little Frogs says:

    Has ANY nation been founded without blood and loss? To claim that Columbus Day is about murder and genocide is to ignore all that is good about America… and those things are a direct result of Columbus.

    Stop vilifying white people; even then, most did not come here to kill nor did most kill.

    Stop romanticizing Native Americans; they weren’t innocent. They killed whites and each other. They were violent and, even by the ridiculously low standards of the time, were barbaric.

    None of us are responsible for what happened 400 years ago.

  8. JJ says:

    It its so easy for us to look at history and other cultures through our western, 21st century lens and condemn; validate; or outright ignore, but the reality is that nothing, no people, and no time is clear cut and absolute. We have to remember that it us only in recent generations that we have begun the process of remembering history through the eyes and voices of those who didn’t “win”.

  9. Manjari says:

    “Stop vilifying white people”

    But you’re making it so hard not to….

    Some of these comments sicken me.

  10. Suzer says:

    @Soren, there were no Indians here when Columbus got here.

  11. Whatevs says:

    Oddly enough, I do agree with one part of Little Frog’s statement – the romanticizing of American Indians is not good, either. They were neither base and barbaric nor were they little innocent flower children. They were human beings, with specific tribal and individual histories, some of which was violent, some of which was peaceful. But honestly, Little Frogs – it isn’t as though the entire history of American Indians showed them to be nothing more than bloody savages. Get your facts straight. And as far as thinking that Columbus Day should simply be thought of as a day that celebrates America – don’t we already have another day that does that, on the 4th of July, which celebrates our (barbaric and violent, according to the British) victory over King George? Perhaps we could replace this holiday with another one.

  12. Bunnytwenty says:

    “Stop vilifying white people”

    “But you’re making it so hard not to…. ”
    Seriously. folks like this make being white embarrassing.

  13. Linda, t.o.o. says:

    “But honestly, Little Frogs – it isn’t as though the entire history of American Indians showed them to be nothing more than bloody savages. Get your facts straight.” There’s not much hope of getting a lot of “facts,” considering the source. :/ Really, those comments were so offensive, I wouldn’t even know here to begin, and I’m not even particularly PC…

  14. Whatevs says:

    True, Linda. Oh so true.

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