For years, I opened my 11th-grade U.S. history classes by asking students, “What’s the name of that guy they say discovered America?” A few students might object to the word “discover,” but they all knew the fellow I was talking about. “Christopher Columbus!” several called out in unison.
“Right. So who did he find when he came here?” I asked. Usually, a few students would say, “Indians,” but I asked them to be specific: “Which nationality? What are their names?”
In more than 30 years of teaching U.S. history and guest-teaching in others’ classes, I’ve never had a single student say, “Taínos.” How do we explain that? We all know the name of the man who came here from Europe, but none of us knows the name of the people who were here first—and there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them. Why haven’t you heard of them?
This ignorance is an artifact of historical silencing—rendering invisible the lives and stories of entire peoples.
[…] In an interview with Barbara Miner, included in Rethinking Columbus, Suzan Shown Harjo of the Morning Star Institute, who is Creek and Cheyenne, said: “As Native American peoples in this red quarter of Mother Earth, we have no reason to celebrate an invasion that caused the demise of so many of our people, and is still causing destruction today.” After all, Columbus did not merely “discover,” he took over. He kidnapped Taínos, enslaved them—“Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold,” Columbus wrote—and “punished” them by ordering that their hands be cut off or that they be chased down by vicious attack dogs, if they failed to deliver the quota of gold that Columbus demanded. One eyewitness accompanying Columbus wrote that it “did them great damage, for a dog is the equal of 10 men against the Indians.”
Corporate textbooks and children’s biographies of Columbus included none of this and were filled with misinformation and distortion. But the deeper problem was the subtext of the Columbus story: it’s OK for big nations to bully small nations, for white people to dominate people of color, to celebrate the colonialists with no attention paid to the perspectives of the colonized, to view history solely from the standpoint of the winners.
Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Columbus: Towards a True People’s History
Just your random reminder that this is a banned book.
In January of this year, district officials came into Tucson’s high schools, confiscated the offending books, put them in boxes, and carted them away. These books were taken while classes were in session, so that the teachers and students wouldn’t miss the point.
What’s even more terrifying is that their actions were in compliance with an Arizona state law.
HB 2281 has terminated Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, a virtually one of a kind social studies and humanities high school program that seeks to close the “achievement gap” by encouraging Tucson students (of whom at least 60% are Latino) to look at American history critically in regards to race, gender, and ethnicity.
But Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal will have none of it, and threatened to withdraw 14 million dollars in state funding to the Tucson Unified School District if it failed to comply with the law, which criminalizes, among other things, “any courses or classes that…advocate ethnic solidarity…”
And so hundreds of students have had their curriculum literally snatched away from them at mid-year; their teachers are now required by law to assign them more “traditional” reading material that ignores the racial, gender, and class biases that have so tragically shaped our country.
Another gentle reminder that there are *ahem* various places I could be arrested for teaching this to you in school.
I want to read this book.