Does celebrating Columbus Day also celebrate racism?

Each year, on the second Monday of October, our nation celebrates Columbus Day, the man often highly regarded for his journeys across the Atlantic ocean. However, America has recently become severely divided on the idea of admiring the explorer and celebrating Columbus Day.

The first part of the controversy regards the actual historical facts associated with the holiday, such as the belief that he was the man who discovered America. He wasn’t.

Leif Erikson, a Viking born in 1st century Norway, and has been historically named as the first European to reach North America, nearly 500 years before Columbus; Oct. 9 is even an observed holiday to honor him. However, there have been stories that tell of New World landings by regions as diverse as Japan, Scotland, Egypt, Denmark, and even Ancient Rome.

Not only was Columus far from the first (non-American) person to ‘discover’ America, but he and his men also famously mistreated the indigenous people they found there.. Native Americans were captured and held as slaves, forced to convert to Christianity, and raped, beaten, and murdered. The native inhabitants were killed inadvertently as well, as the newcomers brought many new and rapidly spreading diseases with them across the ocean.

“Columbus is a two out of ten. He gets points for discovering America, but none for raping and killing everyone,” said Sophomore Anthony Camme.

These relatively new discoveries about the grim reality of Columbus have sparked anger over the holiday, protests at parades, and especially debates about school curriculums. It seems as though schoolchildren are taught an whitewashed portrayal of the explorer.

To make the teaching easier, a poem was created and has become common knowledge for many people today. Most children are familiar with the rhyme, “in fourteen hundred and ninety-two; Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” However, the poem goes on to say “‘Indians! Indians!’ Columbus cried; his heart was filled with joyful pride.”

The idealized representation of the Italian explorer has angered those who feel strongly about the subject and demanded an official response regarding Columbus. This year, some states did respond:  South Dakota and Seattle have both renamed the day in recognition of the reality of Columbus that has come to light in recent years.

However, others do not share these beliefs and promote the continued celebration of Columbus Day.

“It’s not about honoring everything he’s done, but the founding of America,” said first year Gaby Viloria. “There are many celebrated figures in history who have achieved great accomplishments, but have also done horrible things.”

While it is true that Columbus acted disgustingly towards the Native Americans and was obsessed with the pursuit of gold for the Spanish royalty, this is not what truly matters for the holiday.

Due to his records, explorers for years to come were able to repeat his journey across the Atlantic Ocean and inhabit the colonies he founded. This original landing raised awareness in Europe about the New World and encouraged colonization. Rather than focusing on the personal beliefs and actions of one explorer, Columbus, or Exploration, day aims to mark the beginning of our nation and appreciating the nature of exploring new lands.

“We should value his Columbus as a story, not as a person,” said first year Oliver Young. “He overcame political, physical, and geographical barriers to reach an area he previously knew nothing about.”

Rather than focusing on Columbus’ personal beliefs or actions, the second Monday of each October should be used to celebrate the explorations that took place in the 15th century, including the ones that allowed us to become the United States of America. Renaming the holiday Exploration Day could accomplish just that.

It goes without saying that no one should celebrate slavery, violence, or evilness, but that is not the intention of the holiday. When appreciated as a day to commend the foundation of a great nation, rather than any man himself,  it is a holiday that encourages patriotism and a spirit of discovery, that should live on today.