Every year on this day, school children across the nation learn how Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas. Unfortunately what many of these kids will never realize is despite having crossed the Atlantic in 1492, Columbus did not discover the Americas. In fact, according to the bestselling book “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen, Columbus was one of the last explorers to actually make it to the Americas. In reality, what many of us have read in our preparatory school textbooks about the infamous explorer are blatant lies designed to promote a Eurocentric ideology that aims to diminish the accomplishments and lives of non-Europeans.
Instead of providing our students with facts, U.S. history textbooks perpetuate myths concerning the events and people who played a role in our history. In Columbus’ case, it is often taught that his sole purpose for attempting the voyage was because of his will to prove to everyone the Earth was not flat. However, what textbooks usually fail to mention is how many people all over the globe already figured the world to be round. This loophole leads to Columbus’ real motivations for crossing the Atlantic: wealth, conquest and exploitation.
To further distort the truth, our history books then attempt to leave out Columbus’ experiences with the indigenous people he encountered. They leave out how he introduced the Indian Slave Trade, which would eventually give way to the African Slave Trade once the native populations began to die out. The books leave out how Columbus conquered the natives, and then forced them to work for the Spanish Empire or face brutal punishment such as having their noses, ears and/or limbs severed.
They leave out how Columbus justified his actions (pillaging, murder and rape) by using religion as a rationale.
By perpetuating the heroic persona historical figures like him are supposed to embody, history books end up offering a one-sided view of history that serves only to blind people to the grim truth.
However, it goes to say Columbus is not at fault for this historically ethnocentric point of view. He, like the rest of us, is just a product of our society and times.
In his case, his Eurocentric mindset simply conveys the popular ideologies prevalent at the time.
In a sense, one cannot go on to fully blame Columbus for the effects of colonialism.
Surely, he could not foresee the devastating effects his actions would have on the world. He was simply fulfilling his role in a much larger biased society whose foundations are based on race, religion and class.
Instead of praising him for “discovering” the Americas or outright blaming him for the atrocities committed upon the indigenous people already living here, we as a nation should take the time to acknowledge the true events that lead to the founding of the present day Americas.
I propose we change the celebration of Columbus Day to Indigenous Awareness Day, where we can reflect on the tragedy that befell the Americas.