I was shocked and disappointed to see the administration of St. Albans School rush headlong into the culture wars around the naming of Columbus Day. In every previous year the official calendar of the school deemed the second Monday in October “Columbus Day,” the federally-recognized name of the day. Rightly so; it is not at the whim and fancy of a secondary school to serve as some kind of star chamber for the naming of our federal holidays.
But not in 2020, when cancel culture runs roughshod over our national annals.
An examination of the School’s official calendar for this year reveals only a mysterious “Fall Holiday” on October 12. The fact that St. Albans actively broke with years of its own traditional nomenclature makes its intentions all too clear, and is by no means a “neutral” or “nonpartisan” change: “Columbus be damned!” the School has said. It is disheartening that an institution which prides itself in its traditions and which professes to represent the views of its entire community has opted to sacrifice the Italian explorer upon the altars of social justice.
(The Exchanged, it ought to be noted, made its revisionist perspective even more explicit, terming Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day” in the “STA Events” column two weeks ago.)
A vindication is in order.
Columbus Day is not, despite what its detractors allege, a day rooted in hate and bigotry; it is in fact a day founded in opposition to racial prejudice. The first national celebration of the day on October 12, 1892 (the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing) came in the wake of the bloody lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans: The nationwide observance buttressed President Benjamin Harrison’s reconciliatory effort towards the Italian-American community. In other words, racial healing — not racial prejudice, as many nowadays allege — is central to the story of Columbus Day. It is no coincidence that many Italian-Americans view the commemoration as a celebration of their heritage and identity.
But equally important is the reality that Columbus Day honors our national founding and history. The United States was, after all, founded upon European ideals and customs, and Columbus Day offers an opportunity to recognize the values for which our nation stands by honoring a man who, as a daring pioneer in the exploration of the New World, made one of the most significant contributions to the American story.
The celebration of those “values” by no means constitutes bad faith revelry in the history of Native American exploitation. The recognition of social progress has always been a central component of the day, and the principles it salutes are ones open to any person regardless of their ancestry, sex, preferences, or creed. It is a worthy venture indeed to honor the significance and legacy of that monumental day in 1492 while also recognizing some of its shameful implications.
Columbus was a flawed man, and his cruelties were many. But let not his personal failings overtower the reasons we celebrate Columbus Day; instead, let them provide an opportunity to examine the nuances of an important historical moment.
Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day are not mutually exclusive; they honor two very different, albeit interconnected, truths of our national endeavor. The notion that they are somehow in competition is as damaging as it is anti-historical, and the only tragedy is that the organizers of Indigenous People’s Day feel as if they must crowd out Columbus from the date of his landing by scheduling their holiday on the second Monday in October. A culture war has been created where none should exist.
Should there be a holiday celebrating the indigenous peoples of this land? Absolutely. Should it fall on Columbus Day? Absolutely not. Pitting the celebrations against each other is as harmful and offensive to our nation’s Italian-Americans as it is to our indigenous communities. More fundamentally, it flies in the face of what Columbus Day is all about.
One only hopes that St. Albans School will recognize the same.
Due to the personal and controversial nature of these articles, all comments have been disabled.
The content of this article, as with every article posted on The Exchanged, does not represent the views of the staff of The Exchanged nor the National Cathedral School, St. Albans School, Protestant Episcopal Foundation, or any employee thereof. Opinions written are those of the writer and the writer alone.