The entry into mainstream discourse of systemic racism should be a call to action. So, while it is just one step, let’s repurpose October 12.
Columbus Day is racist. If we want Wellesley to be a bastion of antiracism, that has to apply to what we celebrate and whom we put forth as role models for our children and our community.
Christopher Columbus doesn’t stand for the spirit of discovery. He stands for exploitation, for dehumanization, for rape and for genocide. It might be hard to absorb this because Indigenous Nations were glossed over in our schools and framed only in relation to white Europeans. As settlers, we are told that Indigenous Nations are part of history, not the present; that wrongs committed by settlers are in the past — the implication being that we’re not responsible. However, despite federal programs designed to erase their cultures and identities that continued formally through the 1970s, Indigenous people are still here. They should not be re-traumatized each October by being asked to celebrate the start of over 500 years of systematic erasure. We cannot heal this wound by ignoring it.
Many have been outraged by family separation at our Southern border and the murder of Black men and women by agents of our government. Why would we venerate a figure who freely acknowledged committing such atrocities? We cannot be an antiracist community if we do not acknowledge our complicity and work to change that. We cannot be an anti-racist community if we think that racism only happens in other places. We cannot be an antiracist community if we ignore the trauma of asking Indigenous members of our community to celebrate a whitewashed version of Columbus and ignore the attempted eradication of their peoples. What better way to make the pivot to antiracism than to use that very day to honor the Indigenous peoples themselves?
Wellesley needs to join towns such as Brookline, Somerville, Cambridge, Amherst and Great Barrington and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day this Oct. 12. Next year, let’s make it official and vote “yes” on Question 1 on March 2, 2021.
This letter was originally published in the Wellesley Townsman.