Friday, February 02, 2007

Morris: support senator's bid to end Columbus Day

American Indian activist and Ward Churchill compadre Glenn Morris has an opinion piece today--in the Rocky Mountain News, of all places--on a state senator's proposal to get rid of the Columbus Day holiday:
Colorado state Sen. Suzanne Williams has proposed the repeal of Columbus Day as a state holiday in Colorado. One of her proposals is to replace Columbus Day with a floating or flex holiday for state employees. Another proposal is to designate All Nations Day — to honor the contribution of all peoples and nations in the construction of America. Neither suggestion carries any negative fiscal impact for the state.
A deceptively bureaucratic-sounding start, but Glenn picks it up:
Williams is to be applauded for her moral leadership, and for her forthright stance; she should be supported by her colleagues in the state Senate and House, and by Gov. Bill Ritter. State-sanctioned holidays that portray Christopher Columbus as an honorable man who “discovered” America are untruthful.

Prior to his arrival in the Caribbean, Columbus engaged in the African slave trade for the Portuguese. That alone should disqualify him for state or national hero status. While he was governor of the Caribbean, Columbus began and administered a system of forced labor camps known as encomiendas or repartimientos. Under this system, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people were literally worked to death.

Even historian Samuel Eliot Morrison, a Columbus fan, was forced to conclude that “the policy and acts of Columbus for which he alone was responsible began the depopulation of the terrestrial paradise that was Hispaniola in 1492.” According to Morrison, one-third of the Indian population was killed in less than four years. Surely, we no longer want a state holiday to a man who began and advanced genocide.
For about the millionth time, Glenn, Columbus was a dick, all right? Damn. But as always, Morris (like Churchill and many, many others) hefts the grotesquely overweight term "genocide" around like it was a two-pound dumbbell. If scholars are split on how many Indians there were when Columbus arrived in the (so-called!) New World, they all agree that the vast, vast majority of them died from disease, probably rapidly. And I don't care what the U.N. says, that's not genocide.

But having once again clued us in to Columbus's dickness, Glenn asks (rhetorically) why Colorado was the first state to create a day honoring him:
Most people do not know that Columbus Day began as a state and national holiday in Colorado 100 years ago this year. On April 1, 1907, Gov. Henry Buchtel made Colorado the first state to designate an official holiday to Christopher Columbus. The obvious question is: Why?

Why would landlocked Colorado, more than 2,000 miles removed from any area ever visited by Columbus, honor this lost sailor with a state holiday?
I'll bite. Why?
The notion that Colorado was honoring Italians with the holiday is absurd in light of the lynchings and the rampant discrimination that were being visited on Italians in Colorado and across the United States.
No, it's not absurd at all. Here's what the Library of Congress's Today in History for October 12 has to say:

The 400th anniversary of [Columbus's arrival], however, inspired the first official Columbus Day holiday in the United States. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation urging Americans to mark the day. The public responded enthusiastically, organizing school programs, plays, and community festivities across the country. Columbus and the Discovery of America, Imre Kiralfy's "grand dramatic, operatic, and ballet spectacle," is among the more elaborate tributes created for this commemoration. The World's Columbian Exposition, by far the most ambitious event planned for the celebration, opened in Chicago the summer of 1893.

Over the following decades, the Knights of Columbus, an international Roman Catholic fraternal benefit society, lobbied state legislatures to declare October 12 a legal holiday. Colorado was the first state to do so on April 1, 1907.

Glenn ignores this history so he can tell it the way he wants to:

Columbus’ story was manipulated in the 19th and early 20th centuries by U.S. political leaders who cared nothing about Italians or American Indians, but who needed a poster boy to support their policies of expansionism and militarism. Columbus Day, which has only become more tattered and divisive over time, has outlived whatever shallow, pseudo-patriotic usefulness it might have once served.

Spoken like a true Foucaultian: Columbus Day (like everything else) has always been about power.

We have a chance in Colorado, the birthplace of Columbus Day, to set an example for our children, for our schools, for the country. We can set an example for future generations that says that advancing mutual respect and understanding is more important than jealously guarding the well-worn but indefensible, hurtful fallacies of the past. We can support Williams’ initiative, and finally repeal Columbus Day in Colorado.

Maybe that'll happen, but it's hard to see how anybody's going to stop the Sons of Italy (and, of course, the Knights of Columbus), from holding a parade in Denver every year to honor the man. Morris no doubt shares Ward Churchill's view that the Ninth Amendment overrides the First, but nobody else does (that's Grant Crowell asking the questions, of course).

More on Glenn (with pictures!).

Update: He's right about one thing: there were lynchings of Italians in this country.

Update II: Links in the quote from the Library of Congress are theirs.

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