Happy Columbus Day!
Whoops? Am I crazy? Have I been hiding under a rock? Will everyone unsubscribe?
A scant year ago I drove my buddy and local media star anchor in the back of my Rolls in the Columbus Day Parade along Atwells Avenue in Providence. Huge crowds turned out, food was served all over, all the police brass and politicians were present.
I’m sure we’d be doing it again this past weekend if not for the pandemic restrictions. But, in the meantime, the very progressive and largely clueless mayor of Providence has had the Columbus statue removed.
Columbus was not a racist, nor did he ever own slaves (nor set foot on North America proper, he went to the Caribbean). He did not advocate nor commit genocide, though men he left there after he returned home tried to do so (and were rightly slaughtered by the native people). But there was no massive killing by Europeans as there was to be later in Central and South America. The spread of deadly diseases pre-dated European arrivals on those shores (as determined by examination of pre-Columbian tombs).
Slavery had long been practiced by indigenous peoples (Caribs and Canibs). European intervention stopped human sacrifice and cannibalism. (We visited sites in Mexico where Aztec priests would remove the beating hearts of living victims and toss them as sacrifice to the gods. The walls are still stained red centuries later.)
People knew the world was round at the time of Columbus. He wanted to raise money through a search for Asian trade to fund an effort to free Jerusalem from the Muslims. His techniques in conquering winds and currents for sailing were used for hundreds of years after his death, and his Atlantic crossing route is still used today.
We are throwing rocks today at Jefferson, Grant, Columbus, and others in a fit of “presentism” and “cancel culture,” and scouring old yearbooks to find some spoken gaffe or inappropriate behavior to use to force apologies in a Star Chamber reminiscent of McCarthyism at high tide.
Maybe we should use all of our passion and high moral dudgeon to do the hard work: create better and equal schools, provide quality healthcare available to all, create equal opportunity and level playing fields in employment, and take care of all the less fortunate amongst us. That’s the navigation, the daring, the boldness we need today.
Sadly, I see no contemporary Columbus to lead us across that ocean.
(Suggested reading: Charles C. Mann’s two books, 1491 and 1493.)
We will not improve our present by trying to erase our past, but we will ruin our future.
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