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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the Denver Post:

ed quillen

Revising Columbus Day

Sunday, October 13, 2002 -- During my college days about 30 years ago, "Awareness Weeks" were popular. First there was Black Awareness Week, and a couple of years later, a "Latino Awareness Week," and about the time I dropped out for the last time, a "Women's Awareness Week."

There may have been others that I don't recall now, but I do remember that at the campus paper at the University of Northern Colorado, another editor and I needed a column to fill a hole on the editorial page, and so B.J. Plasket (now at the Longmont Times-Call) and I came up with a column that proposed a "Bigot Awareness Week."

After all, bigots have played an important part in American history, even though their significance is ignored in our sanitized schoolbooks. There would be seminars and speakers in the evenings, and during Bigot Awareness Week, the campus dining halls would serve only those foods (e.g., scab lettuce and grapes, Coors beer) that we were supposed to be boycotting.

Our tongue-in-cheek proposal never went anywhere, of course, but it could be an inspiration for a cure to our annual Columbus Day controversies in Colorado.

In one sense, Columbus Day isn't really about Christopher Columbus and his "discovery" of America in 1492. In this regard, it would be more accurately called "Italian-American Pride Day," and it's a harmless celebration of ethnic pride, just as St. Patrick's Day is for those of Irish heritage.

It could be educational if they'd just turn the focus away from Columbus and toward our own history in Colorado. Thousands of Italians came here in the late 19th century to work in the mines, and they weren't always welcomed with open arms. There were lynchings and shootings, and old newspapers here often blamed unsolved crimes on unnamed "dagos." The wrong side of one set of tracks was the Italian part of town for many years.

Italian-Americans are now respected members of this community (our mayor is Ralph Coscarella), and there's an American tale worth telling and celebrating.

But instead, it's Columbus that comes to the fore, which means that Native American activists are busy reminding us that Columbus was a man of exploitation. Rather than bring progress, he brought smallpox, and those natives who survived were enslaved, and the sordid tale could go on for many pages.

So, in the spirit of the Bigot Awareness Week that never happened three decades ago, perhaps we could have an annual "Evil Day," focusing on some of the things that the Columbus Day protesters want us to look at.

For starters, we could try persuading people not to use the word "genocide" so casually. It literally means "to kill all members of a given genetic group." Hitler was genocidal -- he wanted the earth rid of all Jews and Gypsies. Columbus wasn't genocidal -- he didn't want to eliminate all Caribbean Indians; he just wanted to enslave them.

There's a big difference, and that's just the start of the misuse of "genocide." For instance, lately I've encountered the phrase "cultural genocide," apparently in reference to the disappearance of languages, but there's nothing genetic about language; despite the phrase "native tongue," none of us was born knowing any language.

We could survey noted scholars and historians to rank the various vile rulers of the past century or so. There's always the dispute as to whether Stalin or Hitler was worse, and more recently, there was Pol Pot in Cambodia -- even if his absolute numbers were smaller, were his mass-murder percentages higher?

This year especially, we could see how Saddam Hussein fits into these comparisons, and determine whether the number of Iraqis who died under his rule compares to the number of Iraqis who might perish if the United States invaded that nation.

Then there are revolutionaries: How did Mao compare to Lenin? Consider the minor-league dictators: Batista in Cuba, Somoza in Nicaragua, the Shah in Iran, and how did they compare to minor-league left-wing dictators like Hoxhsa in Albania, Honecker in East Germany and Castro in Cuba? Do "right-wing" and "left-wing" mean anything in this context, and if so, where would Juan Peron of Argentina fit in?

On the domestic front, we could have states compete to see whose militia killed the most strikers, and which union terrorists (our own Harry Orchard should score well here) ran up the biggest death toll. Nor should we forget Sand Creek and Wounded Knee.

Given that our President often speaks of evil, this might be the time to start an annual Evil Day. It would be sobering and informative. Or at least it would be until the American corporate marketing machine got hold of it, and we started seeing selected items going for 50 percent off during the Evil Day Sales at our shopping malls.

Ed Quillen of Salida (ed@cozine.com) is a former newspaper editor whose column appears Tuesday and Sunday.

Rob's reply
See Genocide by Any Other Name... for the UN's official definition of genocide. Since Quillen is unclear on the meaning of "cultural genocide," he may want to look that up too.

Few people would say Columbus intended to commit genocide before he arrived. Nevertheless, he and his followers didn't just enslave Indians, which is bad enough. They killed Indians also.

So Columbus initiated history's greatest genocide whether he intended to or not. And he didn't discover America, since it was already inhabited and many Asians and Europeans had visited it before him. So what do people want to honor him for? Because he got lost and bumbled into the wrong continent? Because he killed and enslaved dozens of Indians? Or what, exactly?

Related links
Those evil European invaders
Native vs. non-Native Americans:  a summary

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