Mythbusters: Christopher Columbus

“History is written by the victors,” Winston Churchill said. Another way to understand this power to define reality is through the construction of master narratives. A master narrative is majority-constructed script that specifies and controls how social processes are contextualized. An example of a master narrative that is perpetuated by our education system is one about the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus.

When the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landed on Plymouth Rock in 1492, America was already settled with indigenous tribes. These tribes had a different worldview than the Europeans who came to their land. Journal entries and letters from Columbus himself observe the pacifistic behaviors of the natives: “they are artless and generous with what they have, to such a degree as no one would believe but him who had seen it. Of anything they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they would give their hearts.” While these qualities seem like they would pave the way for a welcoming banquet, Columbus instead chose to capitalize on their selfless nature. He enslaved the native peoples, and shipped many back to Spain as slaves. Many who remained in America were forced with violence to convert to Christianity throughout the European colonization of America.

“I ought to be judged as a captain who for such a long time up to this day has borne arms without laying them aside for an hour,” Columbus wrote, proud of his violence and weaponry. My history teachers did not teach me about the cruelty and violence that Columbus prided himself in. My history teachers did not teach me about the speedy subjugation of the native population. In 1971 Columbus Day was instated as a federal holiday, a day to celebrate the ideals of Patriotism. If days such as Columbus Day are celebrations of our patriotism, what is our patriotism truly representative of?

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