Mass murder, genocide, assault, abuse, sexual assault, racism

Columbus committed genocide against Caribbean people and that isn’t even all he did to them. His atrocities are a lot to take in at once. I sat with this one for a long time because so much of it felt familiar. It made me think about the modern-day parallels I see in Canada & America. 

I reflected on how much we’ve changed and how much we’ve continued to support colonialism and systemic racism. The world looks a bit different several hundred years later. But it also somehow feels eerily familiar to the 15th century. 

In some instances, we’ve shifted to more figurative representations of the same cause and effect. In some ways we haven’t changed at all. 

Sex trafficking and misogyny

Sex trafficking, especially of young girls sadly hasn’t changed at all in the last several centuries. There is no parallel, it remains the same. 

More than HALF of all sex trafficked victims in Canada are Indigenous. This is despite the fact that Indigenous Peoples only make up 4% of the country’s population. Indigenous women account for 60% of all female homicides in Canada

Indigenous women are also 3x more likely to be killed by a stranger than non Indigenous women. 

In many respects, not much has changed. 

Systemic racism

No matter how you look at it, systemic racism is a prolonged torture towards BIPOC. And white people are typically blind to it. 

As the torture Columbus dealt to Caribbeans was physical, the modern day version is both physical, but more largely, psychological.

When I think about Columbus’ slave labour, it makes me think of the effects capitalism has had in the West. The ripples have reached across oceans and impacted many people globally, but dominantly BIPOC. 

It’s true that no one is getting their hands cut off in America today, but the abuse still exists. It just looks different now. Personally, I feel there is negligible difference when you consider the psychological impact of both. Now we have prison labour (which is simply legal slave labour).

I also think of the conditions migrant workers live and work in. Arguably in some places, the conditions many minimum wage workers endure as well.

Columbus feeding Caribbean babies to dogs presents an overtly violent representation of racism. Our current obsession with devouring Indigenous and Black culture delivers a covert representation of racism that echoes Columbus’ actions.

White privilege

Even when Columbus was arrested and charged, what followed was white privilege identical to what we still see today. It is up to people with privilege to share that privilege with oppressed groups. What are we actively doing to share privilege?

The point was raised that often times white people are told they shouldn’t feel guilty when learning about racism. People will corral around the white person who’s new to racism discussions and reassure them they shouldn’t feel any guilt. Derailing the central discussion in the process.

It’s hard not to feel an almost…guilt by association. While we didn’t create the systemic racism that permeates the entirety of society, our ancestors did. It’s undeniable that we still benefit from these institutions. 

We, white people, benefit in innumerable ways due to something we didn’t earn or work for (our skin). That doesn’t mean we don’t move past these emotions and refocus on support and solutions.

However, I want to make sure my fellow white people who are new to learning about this understand that there are several negative emotions they will feel as they learn. 

This is because early on is when white people shut down. We don’t like feeling guilty, ashamed, sad and confused. So we dig into denial and scream ‘I’m not racist,’ as we flee the conversation entirely. 

White fragility

I’ve seen it time and time again and naturally, this doesn’t help us move towards equality. It seems helpful to be transparent about what white people, new to discussions about racism, will feel as they uncover this topic. I encourage these white people to stick with it. Work through those negative feelings, learn, reflect and grow. What you’re feeling initially is often called white fragility, it will pass.

Listen to the stories of BIPOC and keep in mind that their stories are about them, not you. Allow their experiences to pass through you instead of taking them personally. Listen to the ways you can be a good ally, instead of being defensive. Don’t assume feelings of guilt and responsibility for things you had no part in. No one’s holding you culpable.

Remember, guilt is simply a means of obtaining control in a situation. Relinquish the desire for control over someone else’s experiences and just be present. 

Keeping perspective

Racism is a topic that can quickly become overwhelming for white people. We are not used to it being part of our every day life. This alone is an indication of our privilege. We have the luxury of deciding whether or not we want to even think about racism. That’s as close to experiencing racism as we can get; thinking about it. 

Like any new experience, we simply have to acclimate to it. One thing I hear often from white people is that they’re tired of talking about racism. They’re exhausted seeing posts about racism on their social media feeds. Worn out by seeing headlines about racism in the media.

Yes racism is overwhelming and anyone feeling that way about the subject is completely valid in the emotions they’re experiencing. However, to those folks, I would implore you to take time to consider the following;

Imagine having a president who calls Nazi enthusiasts “fine folks.” Who calls brown people “murders and rapists.” Or being a victim of a crime and NOT calling the police because they are more likely to shoot you than help you.

Imagine living in a country where you are 5x more likely to end up in jail just because of the color of your skin. A place where the systemic racism is so deep that and have a 22% chance of dying poor if you’re Black.

Just take a moment to sit with that and reflect on how exhausting that reality must be every single day.

The value of accurate and honest history

Columbus is just one of an endless list of examples of whitewashed history. Why did this happen? Why wasn’t history taught in schools objectively? To answer this, we need to start asking deeper questions.

Carefully consider who dominantly writes history textbooks and who dominantly approves them for publication and distribution. Who dominantly sits on school boards and dictates what curricula will be? Who dominantly shields white people from any feelings of accountability or race-based guilt by distorting the reality of history? The answer is always the same: white people. 

We white folks have put in a lot of work to manufacture white supremacy. We put in even more work to uphold it. Mercifully, it requires significantly less work to maintain an honest and objective account of history.

We have only to look to Germany and how they have maintained integrity within their teachings of WWII to know that is can be done successfully. 

Finding solutions

Sure, racism may be an exhausting topic to think about, but it’s a luxury to be able to simply think about it and not live it. We cannot obtain equality if not all of us are equal. I understand you may be tired, but remember the BIPOC who experience racism constantly. Keep the bigger picture front and center.

Understanding our history is the only way to recognize repeated patterns. I mentioned sex trafficking and slavery, but there are countless others. Until patterns are identifies, they cannot be changed, nor can they be predicted.

We’ve been here before, we have all the solutions we need to fix the issues that presently exist in the world, we merely need to implement them. However, this is not possible without looking to the past objectively. 

The Next Step

Bartolome De Las Casas wrote of the atrocities he witnessed Columbus commit and it reminds me of all of us who agree horrors are happening, and slowly we wake up, and do something about them.

In fact, he was the first to expose the oppression of Indigenous Peoples by Europeans in the Americas and to call for the abolition of slavery there. 

That gives me hope that we too, can create positive change. We simply need the knowledge to communicate about these issues and the courage to relentlessly pursue equality. However, in order to change what the future will become, we have to understand the past and be able to examine it objectively. 

I’d love to know…

How do you think we’ve evolved in terms of Indigenous rights?

Where have we not progressed at all?

How can we expect change to happen if we do nothing to create it?

How did it feel when you let go of white guilt? What changed for you? 

In what ways are you actively anti-racist?