Letter to the editor
The date of 1492, via educational propaganda, has been etched into the American consciousness as being the year Christopher Columbus and the western world “discovered” America. Christopher Columbus’ mission was to find a direct route from Europe to Asia but landed in what is now known as the Bahamas. Despite never setting foot in America his white-washed legacy has been fortified and granted a national holiday.
For Indigenous populations the celebration of Columbus has been devastating. Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” lead to the colonization of native land, fatal illnesses that depleted Indigenous populations and the early implementation of chattel slavery. For the general public to revere a man that looked at their ancestors as inferior to justify their exploitation while their populations still face the ramifications of continued ostracization is a slap in the face.
Indigenous People’s day was first recognized by South Dakota in 1989 to honor and celebrate the Indigenous populations heritage and culture. A move that has been made official in now at least 10 states, according to NPR.
In Donavan Newkirk’s article this acknowledgement is misguided and frivolous because, in reference to Columbus, “he was innovative, courageous and dedicated to bettering the world.” This statement is egregious as it suggests a complicity to Columbus’ view that anyone granted the status of “othered” was not deserving of such betterment.
This view is furthered by his disapproval of analytical frameworks such as identity politics, intersectionality, feminism and recurring talks of reparations for those of African descent. By stating that these tools “inspire people to seek sympathy from society by pretending to be victims” Newkirk highlights the importance of understanding these tools intimately. All these analytical tools provide an examination of society in order to provide equitable social justice for previously disenfranchised communities. Feminist political theorist Iris Young states that “social justice means the elimination of institutionalized domination and oppression”.
This perspective would force Newkirk to challenge his assumptions of the altruistic nature of the American legal system. By aligning with the alleged sexual assaulters Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump, Newkirk displays a thinly veiled misogynistic allegiance to white male domination and demonstrates a devoid understanding of intersectionality, a framework which highlights the institutionalized advantages privileged white males are afforded in society.
Drawing back to Columbus, Newkirk states a historically illiterate claim in “Slavery was not introduced to the New World by Columbus.” This is true, slavery was practiced by Indigenous populations amongst rivals but to equate Indigenous slavery with the chattel slavery of the Europeans is intellectually dishonest.
Slavery amongst indigenous populations was reserved for war captives, gamblers when they become destitute amongst other forms. It was small-scale labor and some tribes practiced slavery that resembled more of indentured servitude, allowing captives freedom and incorporation into their tribe.
European colonist slavery transformed the idea of human bondage. The brutality inflicted, the racist justifications for the expansion was unprecedented.
Newkirk tries to justify his position by asking the reader to contend with George Washington’s legacy as founder of America who purchased and owned slaves stating, “Does that make him a tyrant or a racist?”
Yes. Pretty sure that’s the definition.
Looking at figures in a time capsule that’s favorable to their hegemonic beliefs does nothing but justify said beliefs to continue into perpetuity.
Once again Newkirk tries to make a false equivalence with implementing an array of womanizers whose legacies have been immortalized (Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt) with Columbus. Womanizing, while an inexcusable act of moral bankruptcy, shouldn’t be conflated to the physical and psychological genocide brought upon by Columbus, especially when reflecting on the idea of “all humans make mistakes.”
Newkirk states that the “left” audience that is up in arms with his assertions should take the time to realize that “As you sit in the single greatest and most prosperous country in the world, I urge you to celebrate the courageous man who unequivocally made it all possible.”
This paradigm makes the erroneous suggestion that all people in the U.S have access to the resources that are unequally distributed from American imperialism that ensued from Columbus.
The framework of “othering” that Columbus and other Europeans used to label Indigenous, Africans etc. as inferior humans thus justifying their bondage is used today in the states to exploit tens of millions for the benefit of the prosperity that Newkirk is detailing.
By assuming that we all have the access needed to advance in society the blame is placed on the materially stagnant or poor individual, instead of examining the societal conditions that may have contributed to this person’s lot.
Indigenous day is a rightful counter celebration to the pristine image that continues to be indoctrinated upon the American public of Christopher Columbus. Simply recognizing Indigenous day should also be looked at as a starting point not as an end.
Recognizing Indigenous day with no political commitment for the betterment of Indigenous populations is tokenism.
For true equity to be granted to Indigenous communities social, political and economic commitments that benefit them need to be set forth and executed upon.
But for the interim recognize the importance of Indigenous day, let the marginalized voices take control of the narrative as to allow them to set their own terms for liberation.
Sophomore, English and sociology major