13 October 2014

Columbus Day and hero worship

So today is Columbus Day in the United States. The day is named after Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus, whose voyages to the Americas initiated Spanish colonization in the continental region. Many public schools and governments observe this holiday.

Even though Columbus's only voyage in the modern U.S. lands is in the Caribbean territories like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the greater nation considers the Columbian voyages significant enough in US and continental American history to honor Columbus with a holiday. Beneath the celebration of the voyages lies a darker side to Columbus and his followers. Generally, Columbus was a perpetual violator of human rights. Among his sins: slave trading, religious proselytization, and spreading diseases that contributed to the deaths of many indigenous peoples wherever Columbus went.

Already, the cities of Seattle and Minneapolis have recognized the darker side of Columbus and have decided to recognize the 2nd Monday of October as "Indigenous People's Day" instead. Obviously, in today's fast-paced, must-post-my-thoughts-on-Facebook-now society where kneejerk reactions take precedent over critical thinking whenever long-held traditions or conceptions are challenged, the mainstream reaction to the Minneapolis and Seattle moves is a big load of derp, like "why aren't those cities focusing on the real issues of the day" or "typical libtard political correctness", without touching the concerns that the city councils had about Columbus Day in the first place.

When people idolize notable individuals, they tend to think that the accomplishments of the individual outweighs the flawed baggage, in this case Columbus. No one denies that Columbus changed the world very significantly. All that those who advocate "Indigenous People's Days" ask for is to think about the consequences of Columbus's actions. Also, the people that media, teachers, whoever teach us to respect and see as great almost always have flaws.

If you're reading this from the UK, you probably know about Jimmy Savile. The TV presenter had been a respected part of UK popular culture from the '60s to '90s and used his celebrity to raise lots of money for charities and hospitals. When Savile died in 2011, young and old Britons paid their tributes to Savile whether they knew about Savile from watching him introduce musical performers on Top of the Pops (1964-1979) or his "make a wish for kids" show Jim'll Fix It (1975-1994).

But soon, Britons' fond memories of Savile turned into utter disgust and disappointment. In September 2012, while Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were the top newsmakers in America, across the Atlantic, some quite disturbing revelations about the late Savile's past became a daily top story. It turned out that Savile was a serial child molester throughout his years as a BBC TV presenter. His celebrity intimidated his victims or potential witnesses from reporting his crimes to police; whenever police did question Savile (in the late 2000s) it was far too late for any real prosecution to take place.

Today, the San Francisco 49ers beat the St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football. The arrests of multiple 49ers players over the 2014 offseason has been frequently reported in Bay Area media. Most controversially, Ray McDonald continues to play for the 49ers despite being arrested for domestic violence (but charges are still pending as of now). Aldon Smith is currently serving a nine-game suspension for multiple violations of NFL rules that stem from a drunk driving conviction as well as arrests for other crimes like illegal guns and a bomb threat. And, Chris Culliver is still playing for the Niners despite being criminally charged and sued for a hit-and-run (allegedly also for threatening his victims with brass knuckles). All these men were also part of the 49ers defensive squad that helped the team to the past two NFC championship games and the 2013 Super Bowl. But are they really people worth idolizing, now?

Let's not blindly make heroes out of notable figures in history or culture. We've got to take honest, realistic evaluations of the lives that our "heroes" lead.

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