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Truth about Columbus Day could make you change your weekend plans

Many of us remember learning about Christopher Columbus way back in elementary school. He sailed on the Niña! The Pinta! The Santa Maria! He found the New World and by proxy, essentially discovered America. Only, he didn’t discover anything, and Columbus Day, the holiday that celebrates him, ends up honoring a racist, violent invader.

When looking at the realities of Christopher Columbus, it’s actually remarkable that we still honor him as a country.

For starters, while we generally think of Columbus as the man who discovered America and celebrate him for that feat, he didn’t actually discover this country. In fact, Native Americans had already done the discovering and settling first, but that doesn’t quite fit into the Eurocentric narrative.

And, if you’re still hell-bent on the idea that a European discovered an already populated continent, then what about Leif Eriksson, who landed in Canada a mere 500 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue?

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OK, so maybe you are willing to overlook the small detail about who discovered what. But can you also overlook the horrific manner in which Columbus treated the indigenous people he encountered in the Americas? When Columbus returned to the Americas, he brought with him many more men, ships and weapons with the intent of using the indigenous people to his (and Europe’s) benefit. He forced the women to have sex with his men and for all inhabitants to give them food and gold. Punishments were cruel, from cutting off ears, noses and hands, to enslavement and even being hunted down for sport and fed to dogs. This has become common knowledge and yet we still set aside a day to close down banks and post offices and celebrate this man.

So what can we do instead of celebrating Columbus Day this year?

1. Work to repeal Columbus Day as a federal holiday. Transform Columbus Day is a coalition of more than 80 social justice groups committed to challenging the traditional story of Columbus and repealing the federal holiday that celebrates him. Join them and write to your representatives to explain why Columbus Day is an outdated holiday that should never have started in the first place.

2. Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day/Native American Day. Berkeley, California, stopped celebrating Columbus Day back in 1992. Other cities like Seattle, Washington, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, have swapped Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, thereby celebrating the same people and cultures that Columbus tried to wipe out. And in South Dakota, residents will be celebrating Native American Day. Look to see if your area has any alternative celebrations.

3. Do a good deed. While we can’t make up for all the atrocities attributed to Columbus, we can try to make a difference in our own communities. If you haven’t already done so, why not start on Columbus Day? Donate to a food bank; volunteer at a soup kitchen; or donate clothes, books or personal hygiene products to shelters in need. You can even go on a walk and help clean up your neighborhood. Anything, no matter how big or small, will be better than whatever Columbus did!

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To sum up all the reasons that Columbus Day is a racist, outdated holiday that celebrates somebody who was absolutely horrible, we turn to Last Week Tonight host John Oliver.

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