People stampeded over one another like a Black Friday sale at the mall to claim ownership of famed explorer Christopher Columbus, until they did an about-face and ran as far away from him as they could, as if he had just entered a public place without a mask on. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be hilarious.
New York City’s Public Schools, in their infinite lack of wisdom and consistent reinforcement of the supreme irony that they are the ones in need of an education, have decided that beginning next school year, Columbus Day will no longer be recognized as a holiday. Wait, it gets crazier: apparently the new moniker for the October 11 (this year’s date) observation will be Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.
Before beginning to unpack all of this absurdity, let’s take a look at what’s all the hubbub about ol’ Chris. First of all, they claim Columbus didn’t discover America because he wasn’t the first person to encounter this land, and because the only reason he wound up here is that he got lost (he was trying to find an alternate route to the Indian subcontinent, which back in 1492, was called ‘the Indies’). Well, they’re right about those two facts, but none of that discounts Columbus’ discovery. Here’s why: suppose if I’m on Canal Street in Manhattan and I don’t know my way around town, and in attempting to walk to the Freedom Tower I take a wrong turn and wind up in Little Italy.
Hungry from my walk, I enter a restaurant and enjoy an incredibly delicious pasta lunch. I can legitimately tell friends that “I just discovered this great restaurant!” even though I’m obviously not the first person to eat there, and that I ended up there because I got lost doesn’t make my discovery any less legitimate. The reason we’ve been celebrating Columbus Day all these years is not because of some false notion that he was the first, but because his discovery is what set the process in motion that resulted in part of that land becoming what is now the United States.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: the real problem these complainers have with Columbus is the way he treated native inhabitants he encountered, including enslavement and brutal violence. Fair enough. Those are horrible things indeed. But if we’re going to apply 21st century morality to older times, then let’s just cancel everyone, including Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who not only owned slaves but whipped them regularly to break of their spirit to, say, plan to escape. Heck, while we’re at it, let’s cancel Jesus Christ too: after all, He talked about slavery quite a bit And though He condemned a lot of other bad stuff, He apparently tabled slavery.
If we’re going to change as a culture and honor only those who have led saintly lives according to our modern standards and throw historical context out the window, fine. But let’s be consistent: wipe the slate clean and start with a whole new set of heroes.
Now, onto the laughable: of course Italians stick out their chests with pride, honoring Columbus as one of “their own, as do a few Greeks who purport that he was born on the island of Chios, but I hate to break it to everyone: Columbus Day is about the wonderful accidental discovery that led to the founding of the United States about 300 years later. If any country has a claim to Columbus, it’s not Greece or Italy; it’s Spain. It was Spain’s monarchs, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who gave Columbus the money, the ships, and the support system to “sail the ocean blue.” Besides, Columbus was Genovese, not Italian; Italy didn’t become a country until 400 years later. Therefore, New York’s education muckety-mucks have selectively removed one badly behaving historical figure from the list of honorees, selectively replacing him with one nationality. As for ‘indigenous people’ that term makes my skin crawl. Oh, not because I have a problem with honoring the natives of any particular land, including this one, but I know that in its present use, ‘indigenous’ is a buzzword for some type of looney lefty activist movement that can’t deal with the fact that the Brits won the ‘Who’s Going to Reign Supreme in North America’ tournament, and winners get to make the rules.
I use the term Native American Indian (NAI), because if NAIs’ biggest legal advocate, the American Indian Law Alliance, includes ‘Indian’ in its name, that’s good enough for me. I won’t simply say Native American, because that would include me as well. After all, if I’m a Native New Yorker, why wouldn’t I be a Native American too? But I’m not a NAI.
A closer look at the public school calendar reveals a whole lot more inconsistent horse trading. ‘Christmas’ has been shunned, replaced by ‘winter recess’, though Yom Kippur stands proudly as its own separate holiday, as does the Muslim holy day Eid al-Fitr (come on, admit it, you didn’t even know that one was there!).
There are no special days for Bulgarians, Croatians, Finns, Greeks, New Zealanders, Thais, or Uzbekis, nor for Bahais, Confucianists, Shintos, Sikhs, or Zoroastrians. I guess the cancellers-in-chief succumbed to that pesky ‘tyranny of the majority’ they so histrionically rail against.
I earned my bachelor’s degree at Fordham University, Manhattan campus. I’d take the A train to 59th street, AKA Columbus Circle. I’d walk up the flight of stairs to encounter a 76-foot statue of Columbus, towering over pedestrians and motorists alike, facing southwest, surveying the City. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But if the Cancel Culture has its way, it will soon be named something different. Hey, umm, Mauritanians, now’s your chance to throw your hat into the ring! How about: Moktar Ould Daddah Circle?
Still think this Cancel Culture is just a handful of kooks who won’t affect our lives?