Remembering our history in a glorified, self-fulfilling white European context does a disservice to all of us…especially our children. It is also insulting to every non-white European descendant.
For Thanksgiving we eat turkey and tell our children about Pilgrims and Indians sharing a feast. We celebrate Washington’s Birthday (President’s day) and Christopher Columbus with national holidays. All these days are intended for us to celebrate our history and the contributions of great men.
Why do we not similarly temper our celebrations of Thanksgiving, George Washington, & Columbus with proper context? Pilgrims and other settlers stole land and crops from the Indians, killed entire tribes, raped Indian women, chopped off limbs of Indians that disobeyed, sold many thousands of Indians into the slave trade, and praised god when the plague that they brought from Europe killed Native Americans in massive numbers. Christopher Columbus did not “discover” America. His “discovery” merely marked the arrival of white Europeans thousands of years behind non-whites. From the Norse in Canada to the Indians in America to the Aztecs in Mexico – North America was already well established with self-governing civilized “non white” people. Columbus also committed the aforementioned injustices (murder, rape, enslavement) on a wide scale in America, Haiti, and elsewhere. George Washington may have been a fine president. He also kept over 100 Black and Indian slaves at his farm. Another founding father named Thomas Jefferson, an avid slave owner, made this famous proclamation; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Sadly, these Rights did not apply to the men Created with darker skin.
In short, the displacement, enslavement, rape, and murder of Native Americans from Columbus’ arrival all the way through the late 19th century are a major black mark on our history. It could be on par with some of the worst modern crimes against humanity. It is also the backdrop for the civil rights movement for which we still struggle with today.
If one examines the life and deeds of Christopher Columbus, one sees some brave exploration and horrific exploitation. We cannot deny his historical significance, but he is hardly worthy of our admiration. Shamefully, we have a federal holiday in his honor.
How many Americans know the story of John Brown? John Brown fought against slavery in the 1800’s. His story is admirable. We should have a John Brown holiday instead of a Christopher Columbus holiday.
Celebrate America’s great history. But let’s stop deluding ourselves and our children.
Linked is a speech written by Wamsutta Frank James. As a member of the Wampanoag Tribe, he was asked by the Massachusetts Department of Commerce in 1970 to speak at a Thanksgiving celebration. Frank wrote the speech, but then Massachusetts officials refused to allow him to give the speech. Even in modern times many of us are uninterested in the truth.
I love America. I also love the truth. We owe it to ourselves and our children to learn history without regard to prejudice or patriotism.