Columbus Day 2017: Tear It All Down
Today is Columbus Day, but I’m in the midst of a social media break so you won’t see this post until much later. Still, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and it’s really come to a point where I’ve got to get the thoughts down.
I just eavesdropped on a white woman talking about her family’s participation in the New York City Italian-American community’s Columbus Day celebrations. (Columbus Day became a holiday in the U.S. initially as a way for marginalized Italian immigrants to celebrate their heritage.) There will be protest by native folks and allies against the settler colonization and genocide that Christopher Columbus represents. In the words of this woman, “I get it, but I don’t get it.” Then, she proceeded to give all the usual trite arguments:
- It’s a celebration of Italians in America, not Columbus per se (though he was Italian in America and a genocidal one at that).
- You can’t judge historical figures by today’s standards of morality.
- I supported the taking down of the Confederate monuments, but where do we draw the line?
- Blah, blah, blah.
I don’t mean to rag on this woman. She’s only saying what many other well-meaning, white, liberal Americans say. But this thinking is the very epitome of why we will likely never decolonize and dismantle white supremacy in the country (or anywhere else really).
White people are just too married to their own supremacy and privilege. Even the well-meaning, so-called “liberal” and “progressive” ones.
Over the last few months with all the hullabaloo about taking down Confederate monuments, so many well-meaning liberal white folks took to their thinkpieces to explain why it’s the white (do I mean “right”? Is that really a typo?) thing to do to take down the Confederate monuments, and why it’s okay to leave monuments to other well-known slave-owners and native murderers because of “all the good they did in founding our great country.”
Huh. Cue thinking-face emoji.
What “good” did they do? For whom? What “great country”? For whom?
Because from where I sit, I see native peoples being chased by dogs and teargassed for trying to protect the sanctity of their (and all of our) water.
From where I sit, I see black athletes, whose very bodies are owned by wealthy white men (sound familiar?) being castigated and Black-balled (quite literally) for engaging in peaceful protest against state-sanctioned, racist violence.
From where I sit, I see Spanish-speaking, colonized Americans, Black, Brown, and every shade in between, being left to die of thirst and disease in the midst of one of the worst natural disasters in their living history.
But yes, let’s please preserve the racist legacy of the racist people who built this racist country. By all means.
I say tear it all down. I say this as a proud American who wants to be even prouder of her country. I say this as a Black woman, most of whose ancestors didn’t choose to be here, but here we are, so deal with me. I say this sincerely and unequivocally.
Until we’re willing to, figuratively and literally, tear down every vestige of our nation’s racist, white supremacist history—from Washington to Jackson to Tr*mp—we will never attain the equality and equity we like to talk so glibly about. We need to confront our history and our present, and then we need to tear it down.
Until then, enjoy your ridiculous parades and bank holidays. I’ve got better things to do.