Bayard Johnson: Columbus invented the protocol of colonization

A Transform Columbus Day march in Denver, Colorado, in 2006. Photo by Richard Myers

Writer Bayard Johnson reflects on the continued celebration of Christopher Columbus in America:
Columbus could have come in peace. History would be much different. He was greeted peacefully, time after time. The Indians had clearly never encountered anyone like the bloodthirsty Europeans, crazed for gold and treasure. They never imagined men could behave with such sadistic cruelty. Columbus called them “naïve” for being so kind and generous. The Indians had no idea that across the ocean lay a savage overcrowded land filled with misery, slaves, disease, poverty, ignorance and greed—a land where gold or wealth could buy anything: “royal” status (whatever that means), respect, concubines…even honor. By this point in history, all this could be bought, if you had enough gold.

Knowing the facts of Columbus’s life, it seems astonishing that he is still treated with honor in many places. Columbus Day was declared a national holiday in the U.S. in 1934, when the Knights of Columbus lobbied for a holiday named after a Catholic. Was he elevated to hero status because nobody knew the real story about Columbus’s inhumanity, his atrocities, his delusions, his failures? Or does history consider his crimes insignificant because his victims were mostly Indians?

Christopher Columbus can’t lay claim to being the first European in recorded history who came to the Americas and killed Indians. He wasn't. Thorvald Erikson, son of Eric the Red and brother of Leif, murdered the first 8 Indians he met, in cold blood, half a millennium before Columbus.

But Columbus can lay claim to being the first heavily armed European to invade, loot and plunder new lands in the Americas. He created a blueprint. Arrive uninvited. Pretend friendship. Take over. Enslave all natives who aren't slaughtered. Make money shipping slaves overseas. Keep some slaves to dig for gold and treasure.

This happened again and again, following the protocol Columbus invented. This was the real discovery of Columbus—how Europe could pillage and get rich off the Americas and the rest of the world.

Get the Story:
Bayard Johnson: Who Could Possibly Be in Favor of Columbus Day? (Indian Country Today 10/12) Another Opinion:
Ángel González: Celebrating Christopher Columbus on Seattle’s ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’ (The Seattle Times 10/12)

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Join the Conversation
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