It's time for a rebrand: Let's take the 'Columbus' out of Columbus Day

With Columbus Day once again upon us, America must ask the question, what are we actually celebrating here?

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

With Columbus Day once again upon us, America must ask the question: Why are we still celebrating Columbus Day, and exactly what are people celebrating here?

Now is the time to take the Columbus out of Columbus Day; eliminate the man’s name from the day and replace it with something else — something relevant and meaningful, something life-affirming and something which acknowledges a violent legacy and reaffirms those victims and survivors of the violence. In these days of social change, people are beginning to look at the world, our history and our past and current practices in a different light. And now is as good a time as any to divest ourselves of that which does not work, makes no sense or tarnishes and devalues us as human beings.

Christopher Columbus’ claim to fame was that he got the ball rolling on white supremacy, manifest destiny and European colonial conquest of the Americas. The genocide, theft and forced relocation of Native Americans, and the kidnaping and enslavement of African people, all followed from this man. To pour more salt into the wound, Columbus was credited with discovering a land in which civilization had thrived for thousands of years, as if the populations who had lived there were invisible.

One way or another, Columbus Day needs a reboot, a rebranding.

It is no wonder that this is one of the most inconsistently celebrated holidays in the U.S., with only 23 states making it a paid holiday for their employees, according to Pew Research Center. Even today, Columbus Day parades tend to focus on themes such as the contributions of Italian-Americans, a celebration of the courage and spirit of American exploration, and even, as was the case in Chicago last year, a tribute to Italians who sheltered Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. In the Washington Post, a number of Italian-Americans have even offered their suggestions on other Italian-Americans who could be honored rather than Columbus.

There are alternatives to celebrating a genocidal figure such as Columbus. For example, in 1990, South Dakota created Native Americans’ Day, while Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day in honor of Polynesian explorers. And nine cities in the U.S. have pushed for resolutions to recognize October 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of Columbus Day. Berkeley, California, became the first to establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, while Seattle and Minneapolis became the first major cities to follow suit in 2014.

Last week, the city of Albuquerque declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with a resolution mentioning the 500 years of Indian resistance since Columbus’ arrival, and marking the day “in an effort to reveal a more accurate historical record of the ‘discovery’ of the United States of America,” and to “recognize the contributions of Indigenous peoples despite enormous efforts against native nations.”

“Albuquerque recognizes the occupation of New Mexico’s homelands for the building of our City and knows indigenous nations have lived upon this land since time immemorial and values the process of our society accomplished through and by American Indian thought, culture, technology,” the resolution also read. Portland, Oregon, also just changed the day as well, something tribal leaders have sought since 1954.

This is not an accident but rather an organized, concerted effort for change. “It is important to recognize there is a strategy on the ground. There is organizing that happened to help advance these policy agendas at the city council level,” said Minneapolis City Councilwoman Alondra Cano, whose city announced in August that Columbus Day became Indigenous People’ Day. Cano also noted that, for years, indigenous groups have been educating the public about the fallacies and true legacy surrounding Columbus.

In New York, hundreds were planning the Redhawk Native American Arts Council’s powwow as a celebration of Native American culture but also to draw attention to the injustices indigenous people have faced over the past half a millennium, and as a contrast to the world’s largest Columbus Day parade taking place just a few miles away.

But there is yet another thought on rebilling Columbus Day in a bold, new way — one which is consistent with an emphasis on the rights of indigenous peoples — a day against violence. A national day for peace and justice would allow time to reflect on the violence plaguing the nation, which started with Columbus and the genocide of Native Americans, and a legacy that the nation has refused to reconcile. The conditions are fertile for a day against violence, given the growth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement against police brutality and calls for criminal justice reform. Further, the anniversary of the Million Man March falls on the same week as Columbus Day, in the midst of widespread national outrage over gun proliferation and homicides and calls for gun control in the most violent nation in the advanced world.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove