Glorifying Genocide: Why I Won’t Be Celebrating Columbus Day

AHA Legislative Associate Matthew Bulger writes on the history of the real Christopher Columbus: slaver, murderer, and thief. So why does the United States celebrate him with an official holiday?

Christopher Columbus is known for “discovering America” and is honored for this with a national holiday and general acclaim by the American people and their government. While this is a nice narrative that countless Americans can recite, Columbus should be better known for one of his statements regarding the native populations of the places he came across, specifically that “with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

You see, Columbus isn’t the hero that everyone makes him out to be. First off, he didn’t “discover America”—people had already been living on that continent for ages. He wasn’t even the first traveler to come across America, as Vikings arrived in America around 1000 A.D. and there are legends of Chinese explorers and Irish monks coming to the continent earlier than Columbus.

So what exactly is Columbus’s legacy? It is that of a slaver, murderer, and thief who was willing to do anything in order to secure glory and riches for himself.

According to Simon Maloy of Media Matters, when Columbus first arrived on the islands now known as the Bahamas, he came across the Arawak Indians who received Columbus well and offered him food and other supplies. Unfortunately for these outgoing hosts, Columbus quickly took a group of Arawaks captive. This was just the first of countless enslavements, as Columbus enslaved many more people when he moved on to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

In addition to being a slaver, Columbus also attacked and murdered native people, the worst example of this atrocity being the Taino people. The Library of Congress learned from Columbus’s journal that the Spanish reduced their population almost to extinction within 30 years. This decades long massacre is conveniently overlooked by those who proclaim Columbus a hero and brave adventurer, and it is but one example of the many murders committed by the explorer that exposes the homicidal nature of Columbus and his Spanish compatriots.

This legacy of immoral actions was added to by the thievery committed by Christopher Columbus and his fellow explorers. Professor George Tinker of the Illif School of Technology notes Columbus instituted a law of tribute on the island he called Española, which forced Indian people on the island to surrender goods including gold ore. This thievery of goods and natural resources was repeated all across the Caribbean as native peoples were routinely taken advantage of and basically robbed under threat of violence or enslavement.

Christopher Columbus should be remembered as he truly was: a man who would do anything and everything for fame and glory, regardless of the impact on his fellow human beings. By glorifying Columbus and his actions with a national holiday we only add further insult to injury to those that were impacted by his brutal ambition, and we do a disservice to our nation and the values of equality, justice, and liberty that it was founded upon. So for this Columbus Day, refuse to celebrate the legacy of a man that took advantage of those weaker than him, and instead do a good deed by looking for ways to help those that are less fortunate. (I, and my colleagues at the American Humanist Association, will be working at the office.)