“Cancel Culture” has taught us that Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee have one thing in common…

Commentary

…they were both lousy at their jobs. But Columbus outdid Lee in sheer ruthlessness.

Today is “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” the holiday formerly, and in some places still known as “Columbus Day.” Or, in the New York City school system, “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.” While on Fifth Avenue in NYC the Columbus Citizens Foundation (CCF) will hold the 77th Annual Columbus Day Parade.

The CCF’s motto is, “Preserving Heritage/Creating Opportunities. I wonder if they really understand the nature of their heritage preservation. I wonder if they really know the true nature of their namesake hero. Of course, they do. But rather than own up to the reality that was Christopher Columbus, they hide behind what Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto says, in protesting Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration’s covering of a Christopher Columbus statue, an attack on Italian-American heritage.

“In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain…” You all remember that little ditty. We learned it in elementary school in the ‘50’s. And, you all remember the names of those three ships, the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

Columbus, we learned, was a hero, not just to Italian Americans, but to all of us. I mean, how can you not glorify this brave man, and his courageous crew, who “discovered America?” Especially when your teacher told you how great a man he was.

Of course, what our teachers didn’t tell us was this:

Columbus saw Indigenous Americans as obstacles only to be used as slaves and for profit

  • Columbus and his men enslaved many native inhabitants of the West Indies and subjected them to extreme violence and brutality.
  • Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits.
  • Within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island.

Columbus’ Role in the “Age of Exploration” helped to bring new diseases to the New World

  • The “Columbian exchange” which described the exchange of plants, animals and goods between the East and West, in its worst aspects, added up to biological warfare.

Columbus’ idea to sail west wasn’t as brilliant as we were taught.

  • While Columbus was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but he never did. Instead, he accidentally stumbled upon the Americas. Despite this, he named the people he discovered, “Indians,” thinking he actually was in Asia.
  • Nor, as we were taught, did Columbus “discover” that the Earth is round, not flat. Why? Because as early as the sixth century B.C., Pythagoras — later followed by Aristotle and Euclid — wrote about Earth as a sphere.

Going back to the Columbus poem we learned, it’s actually hard to find a reference now to one with the exact words we knew; apparently a lot of people are in the “Columbus is not a hero” camp.

I thought this one most succinctly captures the “real” Christopher Columbus:

But still, despite all the damning evidence, Columbus Day is still a thing.

Look, I’m not a “Cancel Culture” zealot. But really, do we have to continue honoring a racist, mean-spirited, genocidal, money-hungry explorer who didn’t discover anything and thought, mistakenly, that he had landed in Asia? If Italian Americans think it’s important to honor their compatriots’ contributions to this country, they should, by all means, do so. Just call it “Italian Heritage Day” and hold it on any day, except the second Monday in October. And, absolutely and deservedly, there should be an “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” but also not on the second Monday in October. And when those two holidays are codified, let’s retire Columbus Day, not to disrespect Italian-Americans, but to end the deceit that Cristóbal Colón should be honored.

So, to all you Italian Americans out there, get it right. Endorse “Italian Heritage Day.” And, maybe, because there have been so many, have a rolling list of Italian American honorees. Perhaps start with this list, courtesy of Biography.com, of the 10 Italian Americans who changed history:

  • Frank Sinatra
  • Mother Cabrini
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Enrico Fermi
  • Lucky Luciano
  • Mario Puzo
  • Lee Iacocca
  • Geraldine Ferraro
  • Anthony Fauci
  • Antonin Scalia

But, with all due respect to Biography.com, I need to expand the list to 11 (which as many of you fans of “This Is Spinal Tap” will tell you is one ‘louder’ than 10) to include the Italian American who did more to change history…of American television…than anyone: Tony Soprano!

Published by Ted Block

Ted Block is a veteran “Mad Man,” having spent 45+ years in the advertising industry. During his career, he was media director of several advertising agencies, including Benton & Bowles in New York and Foote, Cone and Belding in San Francisco; account management director on clients as varied as Clorox, Levi’s and the California Raisin Advisory Board (yes, Ted was responsible for the California Dancing Raisins campaign); and regional director for Asia based in Tokyo for Foote, Cone where he was also the founding president of FCB’s Japanese operations. Ted holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Queens College and, before starting in advertising, served on active duty as an officer on USS McCloy (DE-1038) in the U.S. Navy.

7 thoughts on ““Cancel Culture” has taught us that Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee have one thing in common…

  1. Great “Around”, literally, the “Block World”. More of this digging into “history”, not culture, may produce more truth to “culture cancer”. And, don’t stop while you’re ahead. Best you and Sharon on “everyone but us” day, and my newspaper was not delivered. But Joni and I sat on the Bay at Fort Baker Sunday to watch the Blue Angels at Fleet Week. Most expensive “feel good” entertainment We could find to hide from a collapsing reality. By the way, you haven’t booked your SWA flights right? Love you guys.

    Sent from my iPhone-thanks for the email.

    >

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  2. As I recall you always claimed that you were Sicilian, not Italian, so I’m not sure what’s gotten your dander up, Compa’/‘Mbare (you never told me if you were from east or west Sicily). But on the broader question, the bigger issue is, this is a list that includes Lucky Luciano and Mario Puzo. And you have a problem with Tony Soprano?

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    1. No, because everyone in Iceland can trace their ancestry to Leif Erikson, they’ve got it covered as every day is Leif Erikson Day. Or, as they’re fond of saying: Nei, vegna þess að allir á Íslandi geta rakið ættir sínar til Leifs Eriksonar, þeir hafa fengið það þakið því hver dagur er „Leif Erikson dagur“. Oh, how I miss our regular repartee! Or, as we would say when we’re together in Guatemala, “¡Oh, cómo extraño nuestras habituales réplicas!” Or back in the shtetl, “take, vi ikh farfirn aundzer reguler repartee!”

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  3. Hy, thanks for the comments.

    Sorry to tell you, but the “facts” I listed are, indeed facts. Christopher Columbus was a hero to every boy and girl when we grew up. But since Italian Americans have latched on to him as their exemplar of “Italianism” the communication of those facts is at odds with their goals.

    We’ve learned plenty since we were kids: Robert E. Lee was a terrible general; Grant, who we were told was a drunkard, was a great general…and a pretty fair president (ranked 20 our of 45, ahead of both Bushes, Carter, Nixon and Andrew Jackson). Speaking of Jackson, a Democratic Party hero when I was a kid, he was a racist who did great harm to Native Americans, including the Seminoles here in the Southeast. And the Spanish conquistadors who we honored as heroes, were, like Columbus, out for glory and gold, decimating (actually too weak a word) everything and anyone who stood in their way.

    As I wrote, “I’m not a “Cancel Culture” zealot. But really, do we have to continue honoring a racist, mean-spirited, genocidal, money-hungry explorer who didn’t discover anything and thought, mistakenly, that he had landed in Asia?”

    This column wasn’t about Italian American history. And the sample list of Italian Americans who “changed history” is not mine but, as I pointed out, from Biography.com. It included two women, Mother Cabrini and Geraldine Ferraro. But the column was about the unfettered honoring of an individual who wasn’t as smart as our school days poem suggested and did horrific things on his way to, and after, “discovering.”

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  4. There are people, such as these bloggers, that hate, hate, hate. Instead of doing something enriching, they destroy, or attempt to do so, the works of others and the amazing opportunities that came because. Rather than forge a daring journey of their own, without knowing but following a path, they attempt, failing miserably, to bring others down. Such a sad life. We hope they learn to stop tearing others down, but look for the next opportunity to do good.

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