Notre Dame University President John Jenkins announced by email to students that he would be covering up a mural of Christopher Columbus in order to appease those who find the explorer offensive.
Another hat tip to political correctness.
Another head nod to historical revisionism.
“The murals by Luigi Gregori that adorn the ceremonial entrance to Notre Dame’s Main Building depict the life and exploration of Christopher Columbus,” Jenkins wrote, Campus Reform reported. “In recent years, however, many have come to see the murals as at best blind to the consequences of Columbus’ voyage for the indigenous peoples who inhabited this ‘new’ world and at worst demeaning toward them.”
He also pointed out that while Columbus represented expansion and prosperity for his European sponsors, his coming was a “catastrophe” for the natives.
“Whatever else Columbus’ arrival brought,” Jenkins wrote, “for these peoples it led to exploitation, expropriation of land, repression of vibrant cultures, enslavement, and new diseases causing epidemics that killed millions.”
But factually speaking, what geographical expansion of peoples doesn’t bring about the same?
History is filled with the blood, sweat and tears of the repressed, murdered, enslaved and conquered. So is the Bible, by the way. And note to America apologists: The natives of this country were no different.
“Native Americans definitely waged war long before Europeans showed up,” the Scientific American r eported in its “Thanksgiving guilty trip: How warlike were Native Americans before Europeans showed up?” blog post.
That’s not to say the concept of the “noble savage” that’s been applied to America’s earliest populations is wrong — nor the cruelty tag that’s been affixed to Columbus in his dealings with the natives. But it is to ask: Where do we draw the line?
Where do we draw the line between offensiveness and historical accuracy — between remembering the past and obliterating what causes hurt feelings?
What exactly are we allowed to publicly display these days?
Just as with tearing down monuments of Robert E. Lee, or removing statues of key Confederate figures, covering up murals of Columbus may make some feel better. It may soothe some angry feelings about past atrocities, or comfort some who see the display of such historical artifacts as celebratory of the shameful.
But the cover-ups don’t change the past.
The removals don’t alter history.
What’s torn away instead is a chance to reflect and ponder.
A mural of Columbus hung on a university wall may offend. But it can also spark interest, stoke wonder, generate questions, fuel research and ultimately, educate — and all that can lead to change and the betterment of society.
And as we’ve all been taught: Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.
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