Don’t Honor Columbus or the Colonial Notion of “Discovery” By Sloane Cornelius
As “Columbus Day” comes up, which I refuse to celebrate or acknowledge, I see an assortment of arguments cropping up on social media. Some of these arguments aren’t necessarily talking about the problematic nature of celebrating someone like Columbus in the first place, but rather who exactly gets to claim first dibs on discovering America.
To begin with, people can argue who sailed the ocean first, but the reality is that you can’t discover a place that’s already inhabited. Discovering a new world doesn’t exactly count when you’re sailing in your boats and people are waving at you from the shore. So now, not only do we as indigenous people have to deal with the hurtful and enraging fact that this country celebrates a mass murderer and rape peddler with a federally recognized holiday, we also have deal with people playing grabsies for who found it first.
Frankly, I’m tired of people trying to co-opt the discovery of what we would now call “America.” This is also particularly painful when individuals from other communities of color adopt this colonial mindset. While I understand that there is a historical precedent for exploring community pride, particularly if being proud of yourself has been historically and violently denied to you, this ends up both alienating and erasing the indigenous population here.
I think it’s important to really examine the notions of “discovery” and engage with this desire to co-opt the discovery of the Americas. This attitude bothers me for a couple of reasons, the foremost and most obvious being that it completely ignores the fact that we indigenous people were here with our own histories, ceremonies, and civilizations far before anybody knew that we existed. It doesn’t matter how we got here, no matter what your beliefs are, but the indisputable fact is that we as native people were living here thousands of years before anybody “discovered” America.
Secondly, this co-opt of discovery is truly just coded language for playing the racial superiority game. It is deeply rooted in the idea that whomever discovers first gets to claim, and whoever can claim more is obviously superior. This is a heavily colonized attitude wherein people attempt to elevate themselves and their communities at the cost of our humanity and at the expense of our history, all so that they can gain legitimacy in this white world that we live in. It perpetrates this violent idea that the only way to prove your worth is by proving how much you have and by how much you have dominated.