Dec 2, 2016
Baltimore has spent the last year trying to heal from the wounds of division. But now a divisive proposal threatens to create more disunity. Councilman Brandon Scott’s proposal to eliminate Columbus Day is just what Baltimore doesn’t need: more division, less healing. Worse, the proposal itself is based on the kind of stereotypes that should never be the cause for legislative action.
Scholars like Professor Carol Delaney, formerly of Brown and Stanford universities, argue that Columbus is the subject of terrible and unfair slander. Professor Delaney writes in her authoritative biography of the explorer: “…he is blamed for all the calamities that befell [the New] World. The ‘presentist’ perspective that dominates the contemporary view, even among some academics, holds him responsible for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse.”
Delaney also noted in a 2014 interview: “Columbus has become a symbol for everything that went wrong. But the more I read of his own writings and that of his contemporaries, my understanding of him totally changed. His relations with the natives tended to be benign.”
“Columbus strictly told the crew not to do things like maraud or rape, and instead to treat the native people with respect. There are many examples in his writings where he gave instructions to this effect. Most of the time when injustices occurred, Columbus wasn’t even there,” she notes. Columbus was not perfect. None of us are. But he was hardly the monstrous caricature being used to assassinate his holiday.
None of this denies the fact that the consequences of colonization of what is now North America had deplorable consequences for Native Americans. Nor does it compensate for their treatment by Europeans, which was often reprehensible.