Today is the day we celebrate white guys who can’t ask for directions. Apparently, Macy’s celebrates by having a huge sale advertised by 3 models wearing read t-shirts with – you guessed it – Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria on the back. Seriously. I had a conversation with some work folks last week about what some folks are trying to do to make this holiday a bit more politically correct. On the one hand, I see their point. Columbus represents an oppressive colonialism that brought about some horrific ethnic cleansing on this continent. (Side note: a friend who works in disaster relief tells me that the most catastrophic act of bio-terrorism ever perpetuated was the colonists rubbing the small pox virus on blankets and then distributing them to the Native Americans). My co-workers, however, have a different take. While acknowledging the atrocities, the bottom line is that you can’t change history. These were men, too, so they also had to point out that no matter what you think of Columbus, he was pretty badass to take off on 3 boats to the edge of what was thought to be a flat earth.
One of the proposed alternatives to Columbus Day is “Discoverers Day.” That just seems kind of milquetoasty. I don’t see anything wrong with having a Discoverers Day, but I would rather see that as a celebration of the courage and creativity of the human spirit rather than an attempt to cover of a piece of history of which we may be a little ashamed. Another alternative is to add on an “Indigenous People’s Day” which I like better. I think it allows us to acknowledge Columbus’ accomplishment as well as recognize where it went sideways and to see it as a cautionary tale. We have to remember that while for us this day marks a beginning, for the people who were here first, this day marks the end of a peaceful, long-term existence, and the beginning of pain, sorrow, and loss. Whatever you think of Columbus – badass or colonial oppressor – he’s the reason we’re here today, not getting mail and enjoying the freedom to bash his discovery of this continent.