Christopher Columbus has had one tough year. Well, maybe not as tough as the years he spent actually sailing the rough Atlantic waters that landed him in the New World. But for a historic figure accustomed to being revered in images of marble or bronze, this has not been the best of times.
One chi-chi liberal bastion after another has abandoned Christopher Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day, because, of course, tearing down part of our history is what we do now. It’s easier to do that rather than exploring the painful parts and learning from them. It’s so much simpler to consider history in black and white, good and evil, than to acknowledge its nuances and complexities.
And so this complex figure, this brave explorer and a source of pride to those of both Italian and Spanish ancestry, who no doubt was afflicted with all of the prejudices — and they were many — of his time, is today being judged through the lens of our supposedly more enlightened times. We use the caveat supposedly because, well, how “enlightened” is it to throw red paint on a white marble statue?
So in New York City, where at least three Columbus statues had been splashed with paint or otherwise defaced in recent days, the statue that has graced the center of Columbus Circle since 1892 remains under 24-hour police protection. Of course, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t endear himself to that city’s Italian-American community when he appointed a commission to review all potentially “offensive” statues, including those of Columbus.
Nor has the marble statue that stands in Columbus waterfront park in our own North End been free of controversy. It was defaced two years ago and beheaded nearly a decade before that.
When did mindless vandalism become a substitute for civil discussion and debate? When did an exploration of real history and previously unrevealed truths become an excuse to simply tear down that which no longer conforms to our image of unfettered good?
For most this is the end of a pleasant three-day fall weekend, a time to look at leaves and take a breath. That it also honors a trailblazing explorer, albeit a flawed human being, is simply another aspect to ponder.
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