After the horrific attack on the Christopher Columbus statue in Boston, representatives from the United American Indians of New England, North American Indian Center of Boston, Indigenous Peoples Day MA, and New Democracy Coalition held a press conference near the site where the statue used to be. The purpose of the press conference was apparently to insult the statue and by extension, the Italian-American community.
“For 500 years plus, Black and indigenous people have endured a campaign of state violence,” complained Jean-Luc Pierite, president of the North American Indian Center of Boston, without providing any explanation of what he means by this or any evidence that it is true.
“It’s a park dedicated to white supremacy; it’s a park dedicated to indigenous genocide,” said Mahtowin Munro of United American Indians of NE and IndigenousPeoplesDayMA.org. “The messaging is clear with the statue here that this is an area where white people are welcome, but where our people are not welcome. So we’ve been asking for years that this statue come down and that Columbus be no longer celebrated.”
“This statue needs to be permanently removed,” said Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition. “It is an insult to Native American people, it is an insult to the very idea of democracy. We demand that this statue be removed and that it is never seen again.”
These comments are so deeply wrong – morally, philosophically, and intellectually – that it is difficult to determine which statement is the most preposterous.
First of all, Christopher Columbus Park is not dedicated to white supremacy or indigenous genocide. That is not even remotely close to being true, and it makes absolutely no sense that anyone would say or think that. Christopher Columbus Park is dedicated to…. Christopher Columbus. It might be true that Columbus was a white supremacist (as was pretty much every single person in the 15th century) and it could be argued that his actions amounted to genocide (although that is highly debatable), but to equate Columbus with white supremacy and genocide, as if those are his only two attributes, is ridiculous. Columbus was a person. He had many different qualities, both positive and negative, and did many different things over the course of his life. Discovering an entirely new continent, which Europeans did not know about before, was a pretty significant achievement. Was he perfect? No. Did he treat indigenous people in the best possible way? No. But it is wrong to claim that honoring Columbus is the same thing as honoring white supremacy and indigenous genocide.
Equally preposterous is the claim that “the messaging is clear” that only white people are welcome in Columbus Park and not indigenous or black people. There is no messaging that only white people are welcome in Columbus Park. People of all races are welcome there. That should not even need to be explained. As far as I know, no one has ever said, suggested, or implied in any way that only white people are welcome in the park. I walk through the park frequently and see people of all races, ages, and genders hanging out there. If you do not feel comfortable in the park, that is your own problem. If you hate Christopher Columbus so much that you are unwilling to set foot in a park that bears his name, that is your choice. No one did anything to make you feel unwelcome.
The contention that the statue is an insult to Native American people and to the idea of democracy is also false. How can a statue be an insult to someone? There is no historical figure that is liked and admired by all people. For any statue, there are going to be some people who like it and some people who don’t. If you believe that Columbus’s treatment of indigenous people outweighs his positive attributes, then you are probably not a fan of his statue. That is fine. But that does not mean the statue’s existence is an insult to you. There are numerous historical figures that I dislike. For example, I don’t like Hubert Humphrey because he sponsored the Durham-Humphrey Amendment, and I don’t like General Richard Sherman because of the atrocities he committed against the South during the Civil War. But I don’t claim that statues depicting them are an insult to me, nor do I demand that those statues be removed.
As for the demand that the Columbus statue be permanently removed, that is not only unreasonable but demonstrates true bigotry and intolerance. What right do you have to demand that a statue be removed, never to be seen again? Different people have different values, preferences, and opinions about which attributes are admirable in a historical figure and how the different attributes should be weighed. Therefore, different people will come to different conclusions about which historical figures deserve to be honored with statues. Yet the speakers at this press conference are arguing that their opinions, and only their opinions, should determine which statues are allowed to exist and which are not. What makes their opinions more important than other people’s opinions? They are demonstrating not one iota of consideration for those who admire Columbus and cherish the statue.
The criticisms of the statue and the demands to remove it are even more offensive when one takes into account the fact that Columbus was from Italy (he was born in Genoa, which was not part of Italy at the time but is now), and his statue and park are located at the southern edge of the North End, the Italian part of Boston. Columbus was essentially the first Italian-American. To many Italian-Americans today, his accomplishments are a source of pride. His statue represents the Italian-American community and symbolically welcomes Bostonians and visitors to the North End. It is disturbing that someone would equate celebrating Italian-American heritage with white supremacy. Not only do the people who spoke at the press conference consider the existence of anything they dislike to be a personal insult to them, but they apparently believe that their culture is the only one that deserves to be honored and celebrated. Not only do they believe they have a right to order the removal of any statue they dislike, but they believe they have a right to obliterate a symbol of Italian heritage from Boston’s Italian neighborhood. Go ahead and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day if you want to. Put up statues of notable indigenous people from history. But you do not get to tell other people to stop celebrating Columbus Day, and you do not get to take away the Columbus statue from those who cherish and appreciate it.
The only good thing to occur during the anti-Columbus press conference was that, according to Boston.com, a resident of the North End shouted his objections to removing the statue, at times drowning the speakers out. Good for him.
Munro, naturally, complained that this was emblematic of how indigenous people have allegedly been silenced for centuries. “We will not allow ourselves to be silenced anymore,” she said.
News flash: you have never been silenced. You and your fellow speakers at the press conference are the ones who are trying to silence any views that differ from yours. You are demanding that a beautiful statue be removed because you personally do not like it. You are demanding that other people stop celebrating a historical figure because you personally do not admire him. You are acting as if your views and preferences are the only ones that matter. How dare you gather at the site of a statue that has just been brutally beheaded and rub salt into the wounds of those who love the statue and the Italian heritage that it stands for? You are the ones who are truly being racist, discriminatory, and intolerant.