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Christopher Columbus was a Monster in His Own Time
Life Tip: don't celebrate mass murderers.
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America has never truly reconciled with our history. Instead of acknowledging and apologizing for the past crimes of genocide, slavery, and segregation, we’ve chosen to minimize and ignore them, instead electing to view the colonization of North America through rose-colored glasses (which helps obscure the blood).
There are many methods used to whitewash our past (“slavery was a long time ago,” etc., etc.), but the one I find most infuriating is the vapid defense of “judging people by the standards of their time.” This excuse appears annually this time of year, as it’s the go-to shield for Christopher Columbus, the mass murderer whom we are soon to celebrate.
Not only is this platitude an egregious dehumanization of Columbus’s victims, but it is ahistorical. According to the morals and judgment of his own society, Christopher Columbus was a mass-murdering, genocidal manic. He deserves unequivocal scorn, the kind history reserves for its most diabolical participants.
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Despite what contemporary reactionaries would have you believe, 15th-century Europeans understood Columbus’s inhumanity. His second voyage, which began in 1493, ended with his imprisonment. Upon learning of Columbus’s brutality, to both his own men and Indigenous people, the Spanish Crown ordered hism arrested. He was returned to Spain, in chains, to face trial. As punishment, his titles were stripped and his assets seized.
Historical witnesses support the Crown’s actions. The most trusted source of the early colonial period is a priest turned anti-slavery advocate named Bartolome de las Casas. Writing a decade after Columbus’s conquest, las Casas compiled a history of Columbus’s crimes in History of the Indies, which included transcriptions of Columbus’s personal accounts and journals. Las Casas writes:
“Our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle, and destroy; small wonder, then, if they (natives) tried to kill one of us now and then. The admiral (Columbus), it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians…”
Las Casas’s writing is not one devoid of morals. His description pulls no punches: it drips with condemnation of Columbus’s crimes. Yet despite what was known half a millennium ago, there are some in our today who wish to whitewash Columbus as a brave, masterful navigator who spread “European Civility” (*cough*cough* whiteness *cough*cough*) to the continent of savages.
While it’d be easy to write off praising Columbus as a ploy to Own the Libs, the reality is darker: Columbus is a pillar supporting the worldview of the reactionary Right. To them, Columbus’s rape of an entire continent is a small price to pay for the creation of The United States. As the saying goes, you can’t make a (white) omelet without breaking a few million (indigenous) eggs.
To believe Columbus was a “necessary evil” to progress humanity is to believe some groups of people (usually white, Judeo-Christian men) are superior to others (usually people of color). This worldview also implicitly declares that non-whites only “became human” sometime between when Christopher Columbus first raped an Arawak woman and the invention of the iPhone.
The passage of time is not what made all humans equal, nor did people of color “earn humanity” through assimilation with white, European culture. We were all equal from the beginning. Murder in 1492 is as egregious as murder in 2022.
To say otherwise is to admit one’s self a monster.
There’s a lot of disinformation about Christopher Columbus this time of year, so I’d appreciate it if you helped set the record straight by sharing this piece on social media.