I started the week with a piece on the academic hiring process. It didn’t get as much social media sharing as I think it deserves, not out of any ego, but because this lens displays a problem we can fix. It’s not a big fix. It’s not an answer to the huge power inequities in higher ed, but it’s real. If you’re in academic, please read it and consider sharing.
Also, I didn’t say this – I’d be happy to just end the holiday. My piece is about how to talk about it to my children until such time as it’s off the calendar.
For CNN, I wrote:
In October 2013, my daughter came home from school excited about Christopher Columbus. He had come to visit her class! During his visit, he told the children that he had figured out the world was round and then bravely led his crew to discover America. Then they all made telescopes.
As a father and history professor, I was caught off-guard. Columbus actually didn’t figure out the world was round. He didn’t really discover America, either. And telescopes weren’t around until about a century after Columbus died. But what do you tell a 5-year-old who has bought into a myth? And how do you do it without constructing an anti-myth, pegging the explorer as one of the most evil people to walk the Earth? What should we tell our children about Columbus?
In the piece, I try to write a nuanced explanation of the basics, which is always challenging in a sub-800-word piece. One of the elements I left out, coming from LeAnne Howe (who was wonderful to talk to on the subject), was the way that Europeans had no system for incorporating new peoples into their cosmology. For Europeans, the post-Flood diaspora of peoples, descending from Noah, provided a structure to account for the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Europe. It offered nothing to make sense of the Americas.
The indigenous peoples in the Americas, on the other hand, were very comfortable with the concept of new encounters and new peoples. The whole, “white man is a god” myth comes from later, post-conquest, discourse. At the time – they were just new, they had things to trade, and trade came naturally.
Otherwise, I’m satisfied with the piece and its reception, including the shouting, “COLUMBUS WAS A HERO” trolls and white supremacists yelling at me. That’s a sign I’ve walked the line reasonably well.
Thanks to all who read and shared.
In other pieces on American myth:
I talked more about the ethical implications of watching Football.
I wrote about Disney’s Racist and Orientalist Middle Ages, and the way that all the good guys are Americanized.
All of these pieces, including Columbus, link up for me as examinations of American culture.
Meanwhile, too many police continue to kill and beat and abuse, mostly black people, mostly with impunity.
A critique of “cute” in the Down syndrome world and reviews of two wonderful novels.