Bartolome de las Casas Day, October 14

In fourteen-hundred-ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and slaughtered or enslaved every native he encountered, and took all their gold, and then eventually got a national holiday.

Sometimes The Oatmeal is off, and sometimes he’s way off, and sometimes he’s dead on, as when he points out that Christopher Columbus was a greedy, murderous, imperialist monster and that celebrating him with a national holiday in the same way we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., is ridiculously messed up. In anticipation of Monday’s U.S. Columbus Day observance, he lays out the true history of Columbus’s “explorations,” particularly his decimation of the Lucayan natives of the Bahamas.

The point I’m trying to drive home is this: Christopher Columbus was awful. He discovered the New World much like a meteorite discovered the dinosaurs.

And good ol’ Chris Columbus, sex slaver, mass murderer, and champion of sociopathic imperialism, HAS HIS OWN FEDERAL HOLIDAY. This is an honor shared by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

I repeat: THE FATHER OF THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE IS HONORED ON THE SAME LEVEL AS ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

The Oatmeal suggests a better way to celebrate October 14 — “History is full of terrible people and terrible things, so instead of casting a shadow where there is already darkness, I’d much prefer to cast a light,” he says. For him, that’s Bartolome de las Casas, another rich, violent European imperialist.

Unlike Columbus, however, de las Casas underwent a radical transformation in his life. After witnessing the violent atrocities committed against the Natives, he gave up his land, freed his slaves, became a priest, and spent the rest of his life fighting the brutal colonization of the New World.

The only way he could make peace with the horrors he witnessed was to try and help as many people as possible.

His stand against the cruelty and imperialism of the Spanish Crown eventually earned him the title of “Defender of the Indians,” and Bartolome de las Casas spent the next 50 years fighting for their equality.

He is considered to be one of the first advocates for universal human rights.

So I’m with The Oatmeal. If we can’t make October 14 Folks Who Stayed Home And Didn’t Try To Fill Their Pocket With The Blood Of Native Peoples Day — or maybe Victims of European Imperialist “Explorers” Day — then Bartolome de las Casas sounds like a worthy subject of a national holiday. The world needs less misleading, self-serving, sanitized history lessons and more elementary school coloring sheets featuring 15th-century human rights advocates.

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36 Responses

  1. pheenobarbidoll
    pheenobarbidoll October 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm |

    Even better, pick a Native that was an activist for his or her people and have a Holiday for them. Red Cloud Day would be cool. ( just an example)

    1. Tony
      Tony October 11, 2013 at 7:31 pm |

      I agree with this.

      I’m sure Bartolome de las Casas did wonderful things, but replacing a brutal colonizer with another who did some good things later in life after reforming his views only replaces a colonizer with an indefensible image with another one with better propaganda value. Columbus, for all his flaws, represents the reality of colonization better than las Casas, so why focus on the latter? Besides, to me it invalidates the whole point of criticizing Columbus Day which is first and foremost a criticism of a Eurocentric approach to history.

      Overall I’m not sure there is any reason to have a replacement for Columbus Day. If we treat each continent equally… what day is there to commemorate the ‘discovery’ of Europe? Or Asia? Or the first time a modern human stepped foot in North America? All of these dates are prehistory. I’m not getting Columbus Day off. My dad says he used to get it off but doesn’t any longer. Good riddance.

  2. Sharon M
    Sharon M October 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm |

    Mad props for highlighting the real Columbus. The Oatmeal hit a home run. I call it the Beginning of the End Day.

    Also what PheenoBarbieDoll says.

  3. Noah
    Noah October 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm |

    I LOVE the takedown of Columbus. Wow, what an ass. I’m really glad I read this comic, because it taught me a lot about Columbus.

    That said, I’m really not into Bartolome. Sure, he was a stand-up guy… but he was still a white colonizer. Why not instead celebrate an actual Native American who also fought against the genocidal, colonialist, slaver whites?

  4. Nilbogboh
    Nilbogboh October 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm |

    A bunch of my friends posted this to facebook yesterday, and while i agree with the piece in sentiment, I am really uncomfortable with trading one “hero” for another. While Las Casas is certainly a more admirable figure than Columbus, he was still a promoter of cultural imperialism through conversion, but most importantly he advocated ending Indian slavery because he believed that they “deserved” the chance to be “civilized” and replacing it with African slavery because he didn’t think they were worthy of fair treatment. Later in his life he did come to regret his advocacy of African slavery somewhat (in fact his willingness to challenge his own views is what I find most admirable), but if we are going to blame Columbus for the start of the Indian slave trade, then las Casas deserves some blame for expanding the African slave trade.

  5. TMK
    TMK October 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm |

    The person who wrote the story in the link really need to get facts straight, because it is full of cringeworthy mistakes.

    I mean, if (hypothetical) you are going to write about the fate of indigenous Americans after the contact with Europe, at least learn the difference between Lucayan and Taino.

  6. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin October 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm |

    I think Columbus Day is on its way out. When I was in elementary school, we got the day off. Now, people have quietly been removing it altogether from the calendar. And even though folks still do have the day off, on occasion, I can’t remember anyone I know ever taking it seriously.

  7. BroadBlogs
    BroadBlogs October 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm |

    Yes, I agree with Comrade Kevin. Columbus Day is just another work day for me (I teach at a state college).

  8. Gillian
    Gillian October 12, 2013 at 8:38 am |

    I’m certainly in favor of celebrating more activists from inside communities of indigenous peoples, but I do think that it’s worth celebrating figures like Bartolomé de las Casas specifically because they are reformed colonizers.

    It’s fairly straightforward and unremarkable to be able to see the intrinsic worth and value of your own people. It’s hardly a cognitive leap to recognize and celebrate the basic humanity of people just like yourself. It may require at times heroic levels of moral and physical courage to try to change the opinions of a dominant culture on the subject, but the decision to advocate on behalf of one’s own community isn’t all that surprising as a choice. I’d argue that the instinct to respond “What about me/us?” is relatively natural.

    It’s not every day, even now, that someone can have an epiphany which leads them to acknowledge and embrace the humanity and intrinsic worthiness of people whose lives, cultures and experiences are wholly other. I could see celebrating Bartolomé de las Casas as an example of someone who recognized his privilege and sought to counter it, someone who argued for the surprisingly controversial position that people completely unlike themselves are nonetheless human beings deserving of respect and decency.

    Given that, more so than ever, we seem to so easily fall reflexively into the trap of justifying and defending our privilege, rather than owning it and actively working to counter our cognitive biases, it’s a worthy and instructive model to consider.

    1. Tony
      Tony October 12, 2013 at 10:21 am |

      Yes Gillian, I see what you’re saying, but the problem is that the very ability to take on the role of a self conscious and self reflecting being is limited to the privileged becaus of the very dynamics of oppression to begin with. It’s not that oppressed peoples didn’t and don’t have the ability

      1. EG
        EG October 12, 2013 at 2:21 pm |

        the very ability to take on the role of a self conscious and self reflecting being

        I strongly disagree. Plenty of oppressed people are and have been very self-aware and self-reflecting indeed. Colonizing and oppressing others doesn’t provide the scope for that; quite the opposite, I would say.

        That said, of course I agree with your larger point.

        1. Anon21
          Anon21 October 14, 2013 at 7:35 pm |

          Emphasis on “role,” I think. Of course oppressed people are self-aware and self-reflecting, but the dominant culture doesn’t recognize them as such.

    2. Tony
      Tony October 12, 2013 at 10:28 am |

      to see the intrinsic worthiness of people unlike themselves, it’s that they (we) are not afforded much if any opportunity to do so by the very conditions of oppression to begin with. Conditions that not only give the oppressors the naked benefits of oppression (in this case land, wealth, slaves) but also the opportunity to take on the ‘hero’ role, the person who at once gets to take on the advantages of privilege and gets to be seen as a fully realized person at the same time. While the native is cast as the angry ‘other’ who is either only a victim or a self advocate. This is not an easy dynamic to escape but it is not one that should just be replicated uncritically.

    3. pheenobarbidoll
      pheenobarbidoll October 12, 2013 at 12:22 pm |

      There is no such thing as a reformed colonizer. You cannot undo that. Also- there are no holidays named after the indigenous here. And colonized people don’t have an easy time seeing their own intrinsic value. Having a Native hero would not only help that but would open the doors for colonizers ( everyone not Native) to see the humanity in people not exactly like them. We don’t need to celebrate our great white saviors. They do that enough themselves.

      1. lawtalkinggirl
        lawtalkinggirl October 12, 2013 at 10:20 pm |

        My state (Alaska) has a day that celebrates an indigenous person – Elizabeth Peratrovich. She fought for the very first anti-discrimination law in the US. Her day is not a state holiday just yet, and we still have two days that are state holidays that “celebrate” the transfer of land from one colonizing nation (Russia) to another (US).

        Ditto on the criticisms of Bartolome de las Casas. Doesn’t seem like much of an improvement to me, even if he was a better human being than Columbus. Let’s just get rid of Colonizer Day altogether. I’m happy to go to work instead.

    4. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune October 12, 2013 at 12:31 pm |

      . I’d argue that the instinct to respond “What about me/us?” is relatively natural.

      Well… lots of things are natural that aren’t neutral. The urge to poop is natural, but I don’t do it on my friend’s coffee table. I swear it’s okay to have one holiday named after a Native person.

      On the other hand, I do understand your point of view. It would be terrible if Native people took over the White holiday calendar through trickery and violence, forcing white people to occupy increasingly smaller and infertile areas of the holiday year, and be marginalised and oppressed by how few dates they’re allowed to celebrate, and how thoroughly they’ve been erased from the popular consciousness of holiday dates, to the point where eventually we start speaking about white holidays as a vanished tribe, even though white people live invisibly and oppressedly within the confines of the Native calendar, which is imposed upon them even though it isn’t part of their culture.

      That would definitely be terrible.

      1. Gillian
        Gillian October 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm |

        I swear it’s okay to have one holiday named after a Native person.

        I swear that nothing in my comment suggested otherwise, and as someone whose family made sure I had memorized our lineage and history before I was even old enough to go to the white school, I could supply you with a nice long list of northern Cheyenne names to fill that calendar.

        But yeah, it would be terrible, just terrible to acknowledge and welcome the fact that some whites, even whites of economic and social privilege, managed to pull their heads out of their asses despite the overwhelming racism and bigotry of the culture they lived in. Clearly it has to be all or nothing, we couldn’t possibly be able to find anything good in some loathsome creature who happened to be born white.

        1. pheenobarbidoll
          pheenobarbidoll October 12, 2013 at 6:52 pm |

          I’m not that interested in giving cookies to people who managed to be decent humans instead of bigots. It generally gets used as ” see not all white people are racist” in order to deflect the conversation away from colonization. Telling people they are colonizers gets a knee jerk defensive response I’ve yet to figure a way around. And honestly, I’m tired of having the conversation. Never gets past that point and I don’t see having a holiday for a colonizer who wasn’t as assy absolutely his colonizing doing anything to progress it.

        2. Lara Emily Foley
          Lara Emily Foley October 12, 2013 at 10:59 pm |

          But yeah, it would be terrible, just terrible to acknowledge and welcome the fact that some whites, even whites of economic and social privilege, managed to pull their heads out of their asses despite the overwhelming racism and bigotry of the culture they lived in. Clearly it has to be all or nothing, we couldn’t possibly be able to find anything good in some loathsome creature who happened to be born white.

          Oh please get over yourself and your “woes to be white, those POC are just so mean to my race” behaviour.

        3. leilani
          leilani October 13, 2013 at 9:13 am |

          Gillian, I’m just so tired of upholding whiteness. White people get national holidays for doing shitty things, they have people advocating for national holidays on their behalf when they do shitty things and then change their minds towards the end of their lives and begin to act the way any decent human being should act. People of colour really have to be extraordinary in order to be praised by white society. I feel very uncomfortable with your suggestion and your condescending tone.

        4. Amelia the lurker
          Amelia the lurker October 14, 2013 at 3:36 pm |

          Oh please get over yourself and your “woes to be white, those POC are just so mean to my race” behaviour.

          I just want to state for the record that based on her comments, Gillian is Native, so whatever you may think of her argument, the notion that she’s white and complaining about “POC because mean to her race” is false.

          I’m not saying I don’t agree with the criticisms of holding up the proposed Bartolomé Day, but it really bothers me when people don’t bother to read for the context of what other people are saying and make accusations that are just patently wrong.

      2. ldouglas
        ldouglas October 12, 2013 at 6:44 pm |

        On the other hand, I do understand your point of view

        That’s funny, because the sarcastic section of your post completely, purposefully misrepresented said point of view.

    5. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune October 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm |

      (That said, I agree with you on your points re: holding someone up as a model for acknowledging and working to dismantle their privilege.)

    6. trees
      trees October 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm |

      It’s fairly straightforward and unremarkable to be able to see the intrinsic worth and value of your own people. It’s hardly a cognitive leap to recognize and celebrate the basic humanity of people just like yourself…I’d argue that the instinct to respond “What about me/us?” is relatively natural.

      Gosh, I really, really wish that this were true. For the despised and/or marginalized, self-love and acceptance is revolutionary.

      1. pheenobarbidoll
        pheenobarbidoll October 12, 2013 at 6:57 pm |

        Yeah. High self esteem and self love isn’t oozing from most reservations that I’ve ever noticed. Maybe it’s different on wealthier ones, but not where my family comes from.Fighting internalized racism is hard.

  9. matlun
    matlun October 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm |

    I was not aware that anyone considered Christopher Columbus especially moral. This article might be apropos.

    Anyway, since his main importance was that he opened the connection between the Americas and Europe, his personal morals may not be that important. It is more a question on how you view this larger story. How you view the holiday should perhaps be more or less similar to how you view Thanksgiving?

    From this viewpoint having a holiday for Bartolome de las Casas does not seem a huge improvement.

  10. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve October 12, 2013 at 4:49 pm |

    How about just abandoning the holiday all together and using the money/energy to helping native people?

    1. EG
      EG October 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm |

      People in the US get few enough holidays, and everybody needs them.

      1. Fat Steve
        Fat Steve October 14, 2013 at 3:54 pm |

        People in the US get few enough holidays, and everybody needs them.

        I didn’t mean holiday in terms of ‘time off work,’ that could be done at random or on a floating basis. I’m talking about declaring such-and-such date is X Day.

        1. EG
          EG October 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm |

          OK. I’d say the easiest way to handle it would be abolish C Day and make Halloween a federal holiday.

  11. N. Chambers
    N. Chambers October 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm |

    Las Casas was part of the movement that decided Indigenous people in the Americas were like children to be made wards/protected and converted which Africans were less than human and therefore inherently slave material because less than human meant no real soul.

    It doesn’t matter that he recanted. The whole system is based on that shit authorized by the Church which was the ruling power at that time and by the way was engaged Inquisition practices (Spanish Inquisition anyone) which were unleashed around the world.

    To be blunt the Spanish colonies in South America were BRUTAL, not only were Indigenous people destroyed they were used as slaves in the silver mines. So, no – slavery did not start with Africans – these were systems of subjugation happening same time.

    If only Americans could look deeper than searching for information on a cheap holiday as far south only as Mexico MAYBE ….

    The reality is Las Casas was NO SAINT. There should be no holiday in his name. It all amounts to who’s the nicer colonizing killer?

    Indigenous Day should be the rename because Oatmeal didn’t know what he was talking about and won’t be recanting his ignorance any time soon anyways.

    I wish to heavens Americans would get their facts right.

    Done for the day.

    1. pheenobarbidoll
      pheenobarbidoll October 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |

      Yep. Hadn’t even gotten to the problematic part of his becoming a priest. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter. It’s still just a colonizer replacing a colonizer, and I’d prefer to see an indigenous person replacing a colonizer. Even if said colonizer was the nicest colonizer on earth.

  12. victoria
    victoria October 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm |

    I agree with pheenobarbidoll that wanting to honor Las Casas stems from a desire on the part of white folks to put a kinder, gentler face to colonization and say “see we’re not all like that awful Columbus guy.” And if the creator of the Oatmeal had bothered to do a bit more homework, he’d know that there are already alternatives to Columbus Day, like Indigenous Peoples Day, Native American Day, or Día de la Raza, depending on the location.

    1. CaitlinH
      CaitlinH October 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm |

      Yep. When I’m in college and now that I’m in grad school, we didn’t have the day off, but my high school did gives the day off and called it Indigenous People’s Day. Not a perfect solution, since everybody knows it’s just a rebranding of a day celebrating colonizers, but it’s better than just changing the name to that of a slightly more moral colonizer. (And it’s not that difficult to be more moral than Columbus!)

  13. kasabian224
    kasabian224 October 31, 2013 at 2:37 pm |

    Nnnnnnope. Fuck that. I’m not trading one white imperialist for another. It’s Indigenous People’s Day, and long may it remain so.

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