Celebrating Indigenous People, Not Christopher Columbus The Oppressor–Jumaane Williams

I cannot celebrate Christopher Columbus

Jumaane D. Williams. Photo: Facebook 

One’s culture is an integral part of the American experience, and in that spirit I celebrate the rich Italian-American culture that has helped shape our city. But even as I recognize the importance of honoring historical figures in one’s culture, especially in moments when Italian-Americans faced periods of intense bigotry in this country, I cannot celebrate Christopher Columbus. For countless indigenous and historically oppressed people, to glorify Columbus is to celebrate the devastation and genocide he helped to usher in and purported deeds he never accomplished in reality.

Today I proudly join in celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, recognizing and honoring the original people of this land who were decimated by Columbus’ so-called ‘discovery.’ Centuries later, their descendants continue to be systemically oppressed. We are in a moment of challenging societal notions of what has been celebrated and who has been devastated – of who we put on a pedestal, and who has been torn down.

Few historical figures will entirely hold up to a litmus test of purity, and so it is critical to look at any celebrated figure in the full truth and scope of their actions. I hope that with each year that passes, more people will choose to view Columbus’ history in its full context and stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor.

Jumaane D. Williams is the New York City Public Advocate.

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