Every year, Columbus Day comes and goes, and with it comes a round of discourse about whether Christopher Columbus was racist or if sensitive snowflakes can’t accept that we need to recognize European greatness or something like that. I’m not going to act like that’s an open question (he was horrifically racist and genocidal), but the discourse is fascinating in how the only thing that seems to change is that replacing Columbus Day with an Indigenous Peoples Day gains prominence. The same people who are invested are on the same side every year in a never ending conversation.
Here’s another thing that happens every year now: this annual culture war came to MSU on a small scale. On one side: President Stanley, who sent out an email that acknowledged that the land the university sits on was taken from Native Americans, as well as consistent messaging from other university organizations and departments about celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day and thinking deeper about the history of interactions between Americans, especially white Americans, and Native Americans.
Of course, on the other side is our friends at The Morning Watch. Sergei Kelley helpfully compiled all these actions by the administration in an article released on Columbus Day called “Columbus Day at MSU: ‘Pioneer’ Title Regrets, Pres Says ‘Rethink History,’ and More”. He can’t be bothered to have an opinion, of course, instead just presenting the administration’s attempts to rectify massive historical wrongs one after the other. The subtext is that I’m supposed to hate it, but once again he’s accidentally made them look better than they are.
But the least accurate bit is at the end of the article. Because Sergei wants to maintain a layer of “journalism” on his articles, he decided to get a student quote. So we get this quote at the end of the article from Anthony Russo (probably a friend):
“I view Columbus as an American hero. Case closed.”
It’s pretty hard to call Columbus an American hero. His achievement of reaching the Caribbean happened because he was literally too stupid to understand the size of the globe. He heroically enslaved native populations on Hispaniola and made them mine for gold, which he found little of. The only contribution you could view him as having was that he let Europeans know that the area existed, and I have a hard time believing no one else would figure it out eventually. After all, he never even “discovered” the United States!
So why does Columbus have such a huge status in a country he never set foot in, so much so that he’s one of the three people to have a federal holiday in his honor? It’s all thanks to the efforts of primarily Italian-American Catholics, who sought to counteract widespread discrimination against Italians who came to the US. The Knights of Columbus, fittingly, were the biggest group leading the charge. By finding a famous Italian that had any part in the history of white people coming to America, they wanted to link their history to American history to counteract prevailing narratives that they were foreign invaders.
Nowadays, Italian-Americans face essentially no prejudice. I’m part Italian, and I average one mafia joke a year on the receiving end and a couple million that I make about myself. Everyone I know who has any amount of Italian ancestry would probably say the same about themselves. Since they were able to push past xenophobia, what’s the point of having a holiday for a man who didn’t even see this country when there are so many famous Italian-Americans to choose from?
But nothing ever moves easily at the federal level. Even if the Democrats would like to prove they can do woke gestures when they get into power, changing the name of Columbus Day would probably be far down the list of priorities.
I believe that in order to change Columbus Day, we need to go back to what made Columbus Day. Folks, it’s time to create a unified front to bully Italians. If Italians must feel their identity in order to take pride in their own then it’s time we made Italians feel Italian again. Anytime you see an Italian, make sure to let them know that they’re Italian. Flaunt your superiority to them in every capacity. Make sure that they grow in their self-understanding of what being Italian in America is. Make them search out Italian excellence and Italian boy joy and Italian girl magic.
In other words, anytime that someone makes fun of me for this article, I am going to take it as an act of anti-Italian aggression. If Sergei wants to send a weird DM or comment about how I’m being racist, it only incentivizes me further to rediscover my ancestry and start the movement to Get a Better Italian-American Holiday. Make current-day Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples Day, and then [insert Italian-American figure here] Day somewhere else.
I think a better choice would be Vanzetti Day, to honor the Italian immigrant anarchist who, like too many today, was unfairly punished by the justice system for a crime he didn’t commit due to anti-Italian sentiments of the time. Bada bing!
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