By Michael Sainato
On October 8, Donald Trump sent out an email to supporters offering a Columbus Day Sale, blaming leftists for the unpopularity in celebrating a holiday for Christopher Columbus.
“As Leftists push harder and harder to erase our nation’s past, there’s never been a better time to celebrate our history,” the email said. “That’s why we’re celebrating Christopher Columbus’s legendary voyage to America with an EXCLUSIVE Columbus Day Sale!” It added, “America’s past is being vilified and stripped away by liberals in the media and our schools — but we won’t stand for it.”
Christopher Columbus Day has received criticism for the historical revisionism it is built upon, with a movement in many parts of the United States to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Columbus wasn’t the first to “discover” America; he never even set foot on the continental United States. He died believing he had found Asia. Nor were his travels to the Caribbean heroic. He wasn’t a widely known or celebrated figure until 1889, when the United States Government created Columbus Day event to create a competitive theme of American Exceptionalism to the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was made an official federal holiday in 1937.
Columbus’ treatment of native people in the Caribbean is evidence enough that he is not a figure that should be celebrated. The vast amount of wealth he hoped to find for the Spanish Kingdom didn’t pan out, at which point Columbus exploited natives as a free source of labor he could enslave. The Spanish Kingdom had pushed the idea that any natives who didn’t convert to catholicism could be enslaved. In response, Columbus pushed fake stories that the natives were cannibals and savages, circumventing the catholic conversion attempts to force natives directly into slavery. “They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” Columbus wrote in one of his travel journals.
The manner in which Columbus forced natives into slavery is a genocidal atrocity. Thousands of natives were killed by Columbus and his men, while those whose lives were forced into slavery to work in the mines or as sex slaves. Those who resisted were hunted and fed to dogs, burned at the stake, disemboweled, or trampled with horses. Slaves in the mines who refused to work had their hands cut off and tied around their necks to serve as warnings to other dissenters. Columbus and his men often treated the murder of natives as entertainment. As a result of these genocidal conditions, the estimated population of Hispaniola, which had a population that ranged from a few hundred thousand to over a million before Columbus arrived declined to around 32,000 by 1514.
Columbus was an early slave trafficker, taking over 1000 natives to sell on his second voyage. His travels helped lead to the middle passage and trans-Atlantic slave trade. He catalyzed colonialism and genocide in North and South America. Christopher Columbus and the holiday celebrating him ignore a dark past that is washed away and revised to manufacture a false sense of American Exceptionalism.