Columnist’s efforts misplaced regarding Columbus Day

This letter is intended to be a response to Michael Belding’s piece entitled “Celebrate Exploration,” in which Belding argues that the point of Columbus Day is not to glorify the man, but rather, his discovery.

Belding admits Columbus “and the conquistadors … did conquer, enslave and generally destroy the native populations.” He goes on to argue that we celebrate this day “not because we revel in genocide, but because we respect links to our past,” and that “the voyages of Columbus conclusively proved that there existed an enormous previously undiscovered continent.”

Finishing up, Belding claims that we should not revise elementary and middle school textbooks to illustrate “the struggles of ordinary natives slaving away on plantations,” because “there is only so much information that can be put into textbooks” and because “you cannot simply go buy new textbooks for whole classes each time a new piece of information comes to light.”

It should be known that on the island where Columbus landed — Haiti and the Dominican Republic — an estimated three million people died from war, slavery and working in mines between 1494 and 1508. Less than 60,000 natives were left around by 1508.

Spaniards enslaved the natives, and forced them into mines in the hopes of finding gold. Spaniards cut slices off random natives to test the sharpness of their blades; they rode the backs of natives if they were in a hurry; they overworked mothers to the point where they could not produce milk for their newborns.

I cannot help but feel sickened when these actions are, if not justified then at least tolerated, in the name of aristocratic white males discovering a new continent — that had already been discovered by non-whites — and one obscure event, among many others, that led to the formation of the United States. And furthermore, celebrating something merely because it is a part of our past, is never, on its own, a good reason.

Moreover I find it very troubling, Mr. Belding, your argument that we should not revise school textbooks to show the genocide of these natives because “there is only so much information that can be put into textbooks.” Obviously, this is a horrible argument. Elementary and middle school history classes and curriculum across the country are all different. I am sure some have room for more; some might not. Nevertheless, something could be done.

How about we lengthen the school year an extra three days? There are a million things, in fact, we could do to get this history into the textbooks. What we should never do is make excuses for why truth and facts, important to the utmost degree, are not told.

Finally, it vexes me why you chose this topic in the first place. As an opinion columnist, you hold more power than you might realize. You did not write about the genocide in Darfur, the situation in the Congo or the flood in Pakistan. You did not write about the influx of undisclosed money into our political elections, the need for campaign finance reform, or the dismal state of our public educational system. You did not write about the failed war on drugs, the military industrial complex or the prison industrial complex.

Instead, you decided to write about Columbus Day, and why the genocide of the natives should not be taught in school. Now Michael, I am sure you are a nice and intelligent guy, but your energy seriously needs to be devoted to a better subject and stance next time.

In closing, let me leave you with a quote from the great historian, Howard Zinn:

“The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest — sometimes exploding, often repressed —between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.”