Christopher Columbus, Opposing Views adds a fresh angle to a debate we’ve had here since 2017. My critical view of the man who “discovered” America was countered by my friend, historian Ron Musto. And now, a new point of view emerges.
“Understanding the truth about Christopher Columbus is not so easy, after all we’ve been told,” I wrote in 2017.
“But in today’s political climate, masks are torn off, and in maturing as a nation, we are being asked to make a reckoning with truths about our history that have been covered up and distorted.”
Unmasking Columbus as a genocidal horror story demanded a narrative not told often enough.
I decided to tell it in The Christopher Columbus You Never Learned About In School.
Ron Musto’s Opposing View of Christopher Columbus
But Ron Musto, a respected historian and, then, my neighbor in New York City, shot back, asking to post a talk he gave 25 years earlier. It marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s journey, and it paints a different picture.
What have I learned as an Italian-American? Musto asked.
That after 500 years of Italian-American life here the portrayals of Columbus presented this anniversary year by many “revisionist” historians resurrect the stereotypes of Italian-Americans voiced in the ravings of the Know-Nothings and Nativists and in the hate speech of the Old South and of the New Religious Right.Ron Musto
Westminster College Columbus Symposium, 1992
The story of Columbus is not so simple as a factual telling suggests, and that’s because Columbus is a symbol, not a man.
“Even in his own lifetime he took on the stature of a myth,” Musto said.
And then, another voice with another perspective
Christopher Columbus Opposing Views tilted heavily in favor of Musto’s view, this weekend, when Brent Staples published How Italians Became White in the New York Times.
Staples’s article explains how American white supremacy, extended to include hatred for dark-skinned Italians, gave birth to Columbus Day.
Columbus Day, we find, was a peace offering to the Italian government by President Benjamin Harrison in 1992. A mob in New Orleans slaughtered eleven Italians jailed on trumped up charges, and outrage blazed across the Atlantic.
It was a one-day event, not planned to grow into an annual celebration of Italians in America.
How Italians Became White‘s mirror of what’s happening today in America is inescapable. Dark-skinned immigrants are again lumped in and targeted for hatred by white supremacy first aimed at African Americans.
After the Civil War, and not just in the South, a drive to dehumanize non-whites set roots that continue to produce bitter fruit today.