Saturday, October 11, 2014

Still Life With Robin: What to Do With Columbus on Columbus Day?

Columbus - Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)
by Peggy Robin

It’s the Columbus Day weekend and as I’m sure you’ve heard, there are now more than a few states, localities and legislative bodies that have already dumped, or are ready to dump, the name Columbus. The city of Berkeley, California did it way back in 1992. (Sure, you say, that’s to be expected from the left-est city on the Left Coast). Well, South Dakota, Alaska, and Hawaii have all renamed the holiday “Indigenous Peoples Day. Portland, Oregon has come on board. And just a week ago the city council of Seattle voted unanimously to go with the no-Columbus flow.

The Huffington Post nicely sums up the reasons for the switch in an article, “Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery, (Sample quote:Columbus' reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.”)

The Washington Post’s education columnist Valerie Strauss wonders why, given the historical record, DC has not similarly de-Columbussed the holiday:

That is something I think I can explain without much difficulty; it’s a problem that seems fairly obvious to me. If we take the name Columbus off the holiday, then how can we justify leaving it on our lovely little almost-a-diamond of a city? If we were to follow the lead of progressive states and towns and change the name of the second Monday in October to “Indigenous Americans Day,” wouldn’t our city need to be called, for consistency’s sake, the District of Indigeneana?

But that just doesn’t sound right. There has to be a better way to approach the problem. I think I have it. Let’s not ditch the name Columbus, let’s just ditch the historical figure attached to the name. Columbus has a meaning in the Latin from which it originates. Columba (noun, f.) means “dove.” Columbus is the masculine form. A dove is a wonderful thing, a symbol of peace, something well worth honoring with a holiday...or a city name, a university, a river…all the many forms of Columbia found from sea to shining sea. Let’s stop producing iconic images of a navigator and explorer now recognized as a cruel, gold-driven exploiter and slave-master and substitute images of a snowy harbinger of peace, wings spread, olive branch in its upturned beak. Let's celebrate this: – not this:

An entirely different fix for the problem is for us to give up the pretense that we still care what the holiday stands for. Let’s just admit that the modern activity most associated with this three-day weekend is a holiday sale-a-thon for cars and mattresses. Call it Car-Lumbar Day. Of course, it would never do to rename our city in that fashion -- the District of Car-Lumbria. Bah! That's not who we want to be. Maybe we should go for a simpler fix: Let’s drop all names and call it by its initials, DC, and not have a spelled-out version at all. Kind of like CBS (it used to be the Columbia Broadcasting System, but now it’s just three initials). Nobody misses the Columbia in the BS! I’m guessing nobody will miss the Columbia in the D, either. And certainly not in the Day.

Happy C-Day to all!

Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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