This year's push to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day had all the hallmarks of a Millenial moral crusade: it involved a lot of Facebook memes and buzzwords like “imperialist” and “genocide,” but very little critical thinking about history, let alone actual research.
Yes, most grown-ups know that the real Christopher Columbus was not the cartoonish figure they learned about in picture books. As a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, “Columbus Day is really not about lionizing Columbus the man per se, but about commemorating the first domino to fall in the founding of the United States of America: the first significant European contact with North America.” He then sarcastically noted, “I am certainly very impressed by your knowledge that Christopher Columbus wasn't a 15th-century Mother Teresa, and also that you all see through the illusions of your first-grade civics textbook's version of Columbus -- what wise seekers of truth you all must be!”
Oh, but there's so much the sniveling social justice crusaders don't know.
First, who started Columbus Day? It wasn't white supremacists commemorating the slaughter of Native Americans by imperialist aggressors. At least when Antifa called for vandalism against Confederate monuments, they got their history right: many of those statues were erected in the 1920s to intimidate blacks. But when they lash out at Columbus Day, they're attacking the national hero of olive-skinned, impoverished immigrants smeared as rapists and murderers coming to steal Americans' jobs.
No, it's not Latinos, but Italians in the 1800s.
In the late 1800s, Italian immigrants were under assault. In one of the worst mass lynchings in American history, eleven Sicilian immigrants were murdered in New Orleans in 1891, after the Italian community was falsely implicated in the killing of a police chief. According to NPR, Italians were “portrayed as short of stature, dark in complexion, cruel and shifty...Newspaper reports at the time often used the word 'swarthy' to refer to Italians, and other language of the time focused on the foreignness of these new Americans.”
Italian immigrants celebrated Columbus Day for the first time in 1892, a year after the mass lynching in New Orleans. The first state to observe Columbus Day was Colorado in 1906, thanks largely to the work of an immigrant who founded the state's first Italian newspaper.
The holiday had nothing to do with celebrating genocide, or “ignoring the pain of Native Americans,” as Barack Obama has charged. It had everything to do with “Italian-Americans struggling against religious and ethnic discrimination in the United States...many in the community saw celebrating the life and accomplishments of Christopher Columbus as a way for Italian Americans to be accepted by the mainstream,” according to NPR.
If the social justice warriors were alive in 1892, whose side would they take? The dark-skinned immigrants', or the white oppressors'?
Pondering that question should make them wonder if they're really committed to social justice and historical accuracy—or if they're jumping on the latest Outrage of the Week, eagerly acquiring “likes” and “shares” on social media so they can feel good about themselves.
Second, history is messy. As many others have noted this week, there are no “pure” cultures in world history. Slavery, violence, and tribal warfare were global norms in the Middle Ages—even among Native Americans before European contact. As my friend wrote on Facebook, “While it is obviously true that Columbus was a brutal conqueror, the portrait of the Natives implied by Columbus Day-haters is simply false: Native tribes fought wars for land constantly, and could be absolutely barbaric to one another, just as Columbus was toward the Natives.”
Things are different in America today because we've learned to honor individual rights over group rights. If you believe in individual rights, you believe that every man has a right to his life, liberty, and property. If you believe in group rights, you believe that various tribes and ethnic groups should band together and look out for their own, vying for power and resources with the other tribes. In a system that exalts the group, members of conquered tribes have no rights at all.
Whether it's the year 2017 or 1492, which system does the left favor?