UPDATED: 11:00 A.M. ET, Oct. 19, 2023 —
Today as we recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2023, a federal holiday celebrated alongside Columbus Day, let’s never forget what this day represents to many native Americans. Columbus Day is an old holiday that honored a slave-owning, racist, disease-spreading Spaniard who is controversially credited with “discovering” land that was already occupied by Native Americans.
The latest installment of Indigenous Peoples’ Day falls in a year marked by divisive politics and racial angst, which adds to the importance of understanding why we celebrate this holiday.
Especially since right-wing conservatives have been insistent about not recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a legitimate holiday while continuing to boost Columbus Day.
That was true even as think pieces encouraged people in the U.S. (especially Italian Americans) to ditch any Columbus Day festivities in part because Christopher Columbus, the explorer for which the holiday was named, wrote in his journal that the Indigenous people already inhabiting the lands he “discovered” would make “good servants” mining for gold, a task for which any opposition was met with “facing amputation or death if they came up short.”
In other words, Columbus is far from worthy of being honored — unless, of course, you’re in favor of colonizing people through racist brutality.
The Indigenous People’s Day movement has been a long time in the making, with South Dakota first observing it in 1989. Fast forward 32 years and more than a dozen other states and over 130 local governments have chosen to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. Some have even halted their Columbus day celebrations, replacing them with Indigenous People’s Day events.
There was even a social media movement in 2020 to “cancel Columbus Day” and allow Election Day to be a federal holiday instead. The calls came as monuments of the colonizer started tumbling across the country.
The fledgling holiday suggests that more people are warming up to the truth that Christopher Columbus was simply one of the countless white people to claim credit for something whose existence is actually owed to Black and/or brown people. But ever since Columbus docked his ships in the Bahamas in 1492, Europeans have been busy “discovering” things that already existed.
Yes, we said the Bahamas, because that’s where he landed, as well as the island later called Hispaniola, The Washington Post explained:
“He also explored the Central and South American coasts. But he didn’t reach North America, which, of course, was already inhabited by Native Americans, and he never thought he had found a new continent. You may also remember that it is believed that Norse explorer Leif Erikson reached Canada perhaps 500 years before Columbus was born, and some believe that Phoenician sailors crossed the Atlantic much earlier than that….
“He committed atrocities against native peoples on the islands and decimated their populations while he also terrorized Spanish colonists, according to the biography ‘Columbus’ by Laurence Bergreen.”
No matter, American history revisionists continue to hail him as a great adventurer who discovered North America.
In honor of what has come to be known as “Columbusing” — or cultural appropriation — keep reading to find nine things that have been co-opted over the years in a dangerous practice that aids in the erasure of whole communities of color and their contributions to society.
Happy Columbusing Day!
1. Black womanhood
A firestorm of controversy erupted in 2015 when former Spokane, Washington, NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal was outed as a White woman after masquerading for years as Black. She argued that she is transracial and identifies as African American. Sorry, but Black womanhood is not a costume that can be put on and taken off when it’s convenient. Later for this madness.
2. Big Butts
Kylie Jenner was called out for rocking cornrows like she just discovered them.
Caycee Cunningham, a White Utah teen, complained that she was kicked out of school over religious beliefs after growing dreadlocks. She grew them while studying abroad in Guatemala as part of what she called a spiritual journey in her Hindu beliefs.
5. and 6. Du-Rags and baby hair (Blackfishing)
People have been sporting du-rags to smooth down baby hairs and waves since time immemorial. But in recent years, the Black cultural staples have been adopted by high fashion… and irresponsibly so.
7. Collard Greens
Since Whole Foods named collard greens the new kale in 2015, the vegetable has reached new popularity heights. Never mind that greens have long been a staple on dinner tables in Black households.
Gentrifiers usually try to keep it on the low when they take over communities of color in the controversial process. But not a white man who was caught on video in 2015 berating another white man about his white privilege, declaring that he settled Brooklyn.
Black Twitter was relentless when Slim Jesus, the 18-year-old Ohio rapper, released the video for his single, “Drill Time.” Some Twitter users implored him to take a seat and create some pop music or something other than Hip-Hop. To say that “Slim Jesus” is not alone would be quite the understatement.
What else has been Columbused?
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