September 30, 2010

Why we believe in Columbus

It's that time of year again--when we condemn Columbus for his crimes against humanity:

The Myth of "America"

By Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola For those of us who are willing to ask how it becomes possible to manipulate the population of a country into accepting atrocity, the answer is not hard to find. It requires normalizing the inconceivable and drumming it in via the socio-cultural environment until it is internalized and embedded in the individual and collective consciousness. The combined or singular deployment of the media, the entertainment industry, mainstream education or any other agency, can achieve the desired result of convincing people that wars can be just, and strikes can be surgical, as long as it is the US that is doing it.And:The one word key to that is: Myths. The explanation is that the myths the United States is built upon have paved the way for the perpetuation of all manner of violations.

Among the first of these is that of Christopher Columbus. In school we were taught of his bravery, courage and perseverance. In a speech in 1989, George H.W. Bush proclaimed: "Christopher Columbus not only opened the door to a New World, but also set an example for us all by showing what monumental feats can be accomplished through perseverance and faith."
And:"Whereas older nations are by and large populated by people whose ancestral roots penetrated that land well before it took on the clear definition of a nation state, the majority of the people in an invented nation--such as the United States or Israel--have ancestry that inevitably leads elsewhere. This exposes the ephemeral link between the peoples' history and the nation's history. Add to that the fact that such nations came into being through grotesque acts of dispossession and it is clear that a psychological drive to hold aloft an atemporal exceptionalism becomes an existential necessity. National security requires that the past be erased."The article also quotes some of the evidence against Columbus:Catholic priest Bartolome de las Casas, in the multi-volume "History of the Indies" published in 1875, wrote, "... Slaves were the primary source of income for the Admiral (Columbus) with that income he intended to repay the money the Kings were spending in support of Spaniards on the Island. They provide profit and income to the Kings. (The Spaniards were driven by) insatiable greed ... killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the native peoples ... with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty."

This systematic violence was aimed at preventing "Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings. (The Spaniards) thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write."
Comment:  This myth-making process continues in myriad forms today. Every stereotype that portrays Indians as savage or uncivilized is part of this process. Every mascot, logo, or headdress contributes to the idea that Indians were the past and white Christian Euro-Americans are the present.

This message comes from our leaders, thinkers, and tastemakers...filters through our schools and the media...and becomes our cultural mindset. "We" brought civilization to this untamed wilderness. "They" were savages who deserved what they got. We're the heroes; they're the villains. White Christians good, brown heathens bad.

(Note for Geno and his many goofball aliases: The paragraph above is the message Americans tell themselves as part of the myth-making process. It is not what *I* believe. Get it, dummy? Or do I have to mock your cluelessness some more?)

Examples of myth-making

This myth is so ingrained that it's difficult to challenge. "Educated" apologists for America are quick to defend it whenever the subject arises. You can almost predict their responses if you try. For instance:

Claim:  Indians weren't savages.

Response:  Indians fought and killed each other long before the Europeans arrived.

Counter-response:  Europeans fought and killed each other too--in much greater numbers in more long-term wars. If that's the measure of savagery, Europeans "win."

Claim:  Americans committed genocide.

Response:  Most Indians died from disease.

Counter-response:  Columbus set up a slave-trading system before disease began killing large numbers of people. From the start, the European intent was genocidal in nature.

Myth-making at work

We see this myth-making process at work in many if not most of our "culture wars." For instance, immigration and mosque-building: "They" are trying to take "our" country from us. Ethnic studies and whitewashed textbooks: "They" are trying to tell "our" children that the myth isn't true. Welfare spending and healthcare reform: "They" are trying to redistribute "our" wealth to non-Europeans. Abortion and gay marriage: "They" are trying to turn America into a non-Christian state.

(Again, Geno, this is the myth-making process, not what *I* believe. Get it yet, dummy?)

Nor is this solely a rear-guard effort by frightened conservatives/libertarians/teabaggers. Liberals buy into the myth or, if they're politicians, say they do. For instance, President Obama talks about settling the West and won't utter the word "genocide." Politically speaking, he can't or won't give his opponents more fodder to claim he's un-American.

With their talk-show media machine, conservatives are doing a good job of dominating the debate these days. Obama and other weak-willed Democrats are unwilling or unable to fight back. Obama spoke once about our racial troubles during his campaign and has avoided the subject since then. He knows how angry white Americans will turn any racial incident into a debate on who belongs here and who doesn't.

Myths can't last

Fortunately, the long-term trends are working in favor of change. Millions of educators and activists are chipping away at America's myths. Younger Americans are more liberal, tolerant, and aware than older ones. In a few decades, whites will be a minority whether they like it or not.

Unless conservatives start burning as well as banning books, the facts aren't going anywhere. It's a documented fact that Columbus and his men killed or enslaved Indians. That Euro-Americans took an inhabited land from its people by force. No amount of spinning will change the fundamental truth: that the myth is a lie.

For more on the subject, see Those Evil Europeans and This Ain't No Party, This Ain't No Disco:  A Columbus Day Rant.


Luis Lorenzo said...

From your, quote 'Catholic priest Bartolome de las Casas, in the multi-volume "History of the Indies" published in 1875' only add that regardless of publication dates I'm not certain of, father Bartolome de las Casas lived between 1484 and July 18th. 1566 which makes him more remarkable.

Stephen Bridenstine said...

The de las Casas quote also disproves that other popular myth.

"People just didn't know any better back then."

As you have proven time and again, people DID know better back then. There have always been people objecting to the cruelties around them and speaking up for social justice. Sadly, these are the same people who get lost in the process of myth-making.

Johnny White Man said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob said...

"Johnny White Man" the cowardly commenter got another posting deleted because of an unwarranted personal attack. Try again, Johnny.

Rob said...

Wikipedia confirms the publication date. I don't know why it took someone so long to publish it. There could be any number of reasons.

Bartolomé de las Casas' book, Historia de las Indias was first published in 1875.

Rob said...

Oh, and a comment on this line in Johnny's posting:

"In better words, the gist is that Natives have been able to preserve their traditions dating back centuries, hence--'preserverance.'"

The word is "PERseverance," not "preserverance." There's no such word as "preserverance."

"Persevere" and "preserve" look similar, which may have confused you with your limited understanding of English. But they're different words with different meanings and etymologies. They're totally unrelated.

Next time you try to tell me a "better" way to write something, don't use made-up words. In fact, don't bother trying to improve my writing. I'm a professional writer and you're obviously not, so you're bound to fail.

dmarks said...

One of the commenters in the story tou link to said there were no Aztec or Maya in North America... Way to go, erasing two of the most populous Native nations of the continent from ever having existed

Burt said...

I participated in the demonstration and protest of the 1992 Columbus Day parade in Denver alongside AIM and met with Russell Means later that evening for a prayer and meal.

What struck me at that time was the many "non-natives" and Italian Americans that were also protesting the Columbus Day parade alongside us in other groups.

One question that seemed to have a universal feel was that if this nation could "add" another holiday, "Martin Luther King Day", why are we not able to abolish this one?

dmarks said...

Italian-Americans do celebrate this, but in my experience much more out of actual ethnic pride than anything to do with Columbus. The Columbus aspect could easily be removed.

Rob said...

The commenter may have thought Mexico belongs to Central America rather than North America. Not so, but it's an understandable mistake.