The Controversy of Columbus Day

Online comic series The Oatmeal has posted this look at the dark side of Christopher Columbus. Today, as thousands of workers get a day off from their jobs to celebrate the explorer, The Oatmeal suggests that we take a look at Columbus’ actual legacy. Instead of a hero, the post tells how Columbus enslaved natives, exploited their villages, brutalized their warriors and was even involved in sex trafficking girls as young as nine. He blatantly disobeyed Queen Isabella’s instructions to not enslave any natives, flagrantly disregarded the widely known fact that there was no easy passage to India across the Atlantic and was eventually jailed for his crimes. All in all, not exactly someone you want to honor with a federal holiday.

The comic strip suggests that instead of “celebrating” Columbus, we look to honor a historical figure like Bartolome de las Casas, an adventurer who eventually freed all his slaves, became a priest advocated tirelessly for natives in the New World. Eventually, the Spanish crown named him “Defender of the Indians,” and he spent 50 years fighting for their rights. The Church of England commemorates him on July 20—it isn’t a federal holiday, but you take what you can get.

Like any controversy, as The Atlantic points out, there are two sides to tell. Despite Columbus’ sordid personal history, the celebration of the holiday itself is a nuanced issue: While Columbus himself may have done some awful things, the holiday that carries his name was actually started as a celebration of racial and social diversity …

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