“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force,” Columbus wrote in October 1492, in a slice of the journal quoted by Zinn. “They would make fine servants. … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” he also wrote.
But last school year, when the North Carolina teacher tried to give this lesson to her sophomore honors world history class, a parent wrote an email complaining that her White son had been made to feel guilty.
The teacher recalled replying by asking, “Why would your child feel guilty about what Columbus did to the Arawak?” The parents of the student escalated the issue to human resources, the teacher said, spurring an administrator to warn that she needed to stop “pushing my agenda — telling me that having my children learn the truth about Columbus was biased.”
We cannot teach what Christopher Columbus said. His words, a primary source.
No one believes that this kid “felt guilty” or that whatever this kid felt was something that was damaging in meaningful way. This is about a weird quirk of inventing an American history because we were a new nation without a single narrative or story to hold us together and a quirk of Italian-American history choosing to uphold Columbus as a hero figure. This is about adults who refuse to grow up, somehow believing that learning more and having a more complete picture of the world taints their previous experiences.
They want to talk about “snowflakes” and “safe spaces”, meanwhile they are conducting a full court press against reality as it was in favor of reality as they wish it to be or reality as they recall receiving it at some previous time in the past.
This kid was not feeling guilty. We all know it. This was another wink, another whistle.
You know, there’s a lot of stuff that we should feel guilty about. Guilt is an important and powerful emotion. Guilt is a sign that we are growing, we are learning, and that we can face turning our moral capacities to judge ourselves by our own standards instead of always judging everyone else. It would be great if more people felt a little bit of guilt now and again.