On Monday, Oct. 13, the nation celebrated Columbus Day — a vague recognition of the discovery of a land already inhabited by hundreds of complex civilizations.
On Tuesday, students fill the amphitheater to sing praises to a benevolent God under the iron-cast statue of this harbinger of genocide.
On Wednesday, I ask myself if we give ourselves too much credit in eradicating institutionalized racism.
As Jack Weatherford points out: “The United States honors only two men with federal holidays bearing their names. In January we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., who struggled to lift the blinders of racial prejudice and to cut the remaining bonds of slavery in America. In October, we honor Christopher Columbus, who opened the Atlantic slave trade and launched one of the greatest waves of genocide known in history.”
We often feed on the feel-good narrative that suggests the worst of racism ended with marches and speeches in the late ‘60s. From there, the trajectory of human compassion has, with a sprinkle of gosh-darn millennial awesomeness, increased with parabolic intent every passing year.
My, what a wonderful thought! What a comforting notion that we are on the Santa Maria of human empathy! What a wonderful time that we can highlight sections of history that illuminate how far we’ve come. Some would say we have arrived — that the dream has been achieved.
And yet our calendars bear Columbus’ name.
And yet a third of American black males will see jail time, though on average they use fewer drugs than whites.
And yet we cheer for the Redskins.
And yet Bill Maher, a celebrated talk show host, castigated the billion-strong religion of Islam — citing minority violence and terrorism — to the sound of applause.
And yet so many cannot recognize in themselves the last bastions of institutionalized racism and veer instead for white guilt and tacit disapproval.
How dare we allow the implication that Columbus “discovered” America — effectively denigrating Native Americans to sub-humanity?
How dare we celebrate this man and honor his name while making paper mache telescopes and memorizing the names of his ships — singing rhymes about the year in which he sailed across the ocean blue — citing his brilliant discovery of the roundness of the earth (paying no mind to the fact the Greeks estimated the circumference of the earth millennia ago) and otherwise systematizing an idealism that lacks recognition of a profound moral failure?
How dare we, citizens of the greatest superpower of all time, let our guards down to racism and ethnocentrism?
If American exceptionalism is our Santa Maria, beware the smallpox of denial and passivity. Like all viruses, racism exists as a red-stopper vial deep in the ghetto of every sincere heart.
Follow Nate Barton on Twitter: @TheNateBarton