The Gatepost Editorial: The dangers of whitewashing history

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed across the ocean blue. 

But instead of finding a western sea route to China, he and his crew murdered, raped, and tortured Indigenous people living on the island Guanahani, which Columbus referred to as San Salvador. 

Despite Columbus’ horrifying actions, on Oct. 9, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation declaring Monday, Oct. 12, Columbus Day.

Since 1934, our country has honored a man who is responsible for acts of genocide against Indigenous people. 

However, in recent years, there has been a push to rename Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day in order to call attention to the losses suffered by Indigenous people at the hands of colonizers throughout history.

Trump’s comments before making the proclamation indicate he is against renaming the holiday Indigenous People’s Day, to say the least. 

According to Trump, renaming the holiday would mark the history of the United States “as inherently sinister.”

What Trump fails to realize is that our country’s history is sinister as the United States is built upon the graves of innocent victims.  

Yet, he continues to claim that we need to “Make America Great Again.”

What’s so great about a country that is located on stolen land and built on the backs of enslaved individuals?

Perhaps he misread our country’s history. 

Trump said in his proclamation, “Radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy. These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions.”

These educational changes are not radical – they have been coming for a long time.

Although Columbus and other European explorers are credited with making profound contributions to navigation, their legacy should not be isolated from the irreversible damage their expeditions caused to Indigenous peoples.

But despite the heinous actions of colonizers such as Columbus, the president claims that individuals who want to properly honor those whose land we stole are the problem, rather than taking the time to fully understand the dark and twisted history that belongs to the United States. 

Instead of recognizing our country’s problematic history, Trump is more fearful of Columbus’ story being removed from our history books.

However, his fear is unfounded.

We “radical activists” do not wish to erase history. Instead, we desire history to be taught accurately and not sugar coated in order to create a false narrative of a great American “hero.”

No hero we know of is responsible for the countless deaths of innocent people.

Indirectly, Columbus and his men were responsible for the deaths of millions of people because of diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza, which were brought to Indigenous lands from the “old world,” according to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

Columbus’s participation in brutal acts such as cutting a man’s hand off for stealing corn “eventually led to his arrest and caused him to lose favor with the Spanish monarchy,” according to National Geographic.

The United States should follow suit and refuse to idolize a criminal.

According to the University of Denver, Indigenous people still are affected by the results of colonization as their communities struggle with high rates of alcoholism and sucide. 

Our history classes have been stained by the whitewashed version of events we were taught growing up. We owe it to the tribes that were devastated, and to the Indigenous people who still have not been compensated for everything their people lost, to educate ourselves and hold our own ancestors accountable. 

We live on stolen land. 

Massachusetts, your house, your high school, and yes – even the Framingham State campus –  were all built on stolen land and does not rightfully belong to us.

As a University, and as a country, we all must acknowledge the painful history of genocide against Indigenous people and denounce the president’s failure to – once again – do what’s right and recognize America’s dark history for what it is.

The president is not guilty in the sense that he was taught the same version of Columbus we all learned in school growing up – his teachers failed him.

But he is guilty of continuing to undermine the underrepresented people who make up this country – even those who were here long before his European ancestors.

His refusal to acknowledge his privilege and educate himself on our country’s history is shameful, to put it bluntly. 

Because what’s so great about a country built upon the graves of innocent people? 

Yes, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 – but he was far from a martyr. 

He does not deserve to be celebrated for the atrocities against Indigenous populations he perpetrated in his quest for glory.

We cannot change what happened, but we can choose to teach future generations, and inevitably,  future presidents, the most important lesson of all: the truth.