Columbus Day is coming and I just can’t

By Tanzi West Barbour

Monday is a holiday for some. According to the calendar, it’s Columbus Day. Thinking about this day as someone who is part Native American, and its historical context reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my son’s teachers at the beginning of this school year concerning the social studies objectives for the class.

“It’s all focused on European history,” I told him. “Where is his history?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“No worries,” I said. “He’ll introduce it to you and that way you both will learn. His connection will be through his ancestral history.”

“That’s fine,” the teacher said. “I am open to being flexible with how students approach the material.”

Now trust me when I say I believe educators should be in control of their classrooms and they should be able to set boundaries around what will be accepted and what won’t. And that would be okay in this instance except I wasn’t asking for permission. I was simply making sure my son did not spend the school year learning about someone else’s history without the ability to either learn or teach others about the impact his ancestors had on those same historical lessons. I wanted to make sure he knew he was being included.

Additionally, I do not believe that anyone should ever have to ask for permission to be counted.

Not the student in a predominantly black private school where black history isn’t part of a social studies class.

Not the lone token person of color who is the only or the first in their workplace.

Not the Dreamer who came to this country for a better life.

Not the resident of the U.S. island who has been waiting to receive the basic necessities needed to survive after being ravaged by a hurricane more than two weeks ago; only to have the 45th President of the United States visit and throw rolls of paper towels at them.

We should all be counted.

That’s why each year it has become harder and harder for me to acknowledge Christopher Columbus Day until I finally stopped two years ago. I just…can’t. Perhaps it’s my version of taking a knee against all things that holiday represents in its celebratory rhetoric and store sales. I just can’t honor a man who stole, killed, and lied. I cannot in good faith nor in truth allow myself to honor a commemoration of a time when we weren’t counted as important.

And we were here first.

When I have this conversation with my friends and colleagues, many of whom are white, they nod in receipt of my viewpoints but not necessarily in agreement. And that’s okay. Again, this is not about seeking approval. But if I had the opportunity to create a call-to-action for Monday it would be to use your position, whatever it is, to create opportunities for the disconnected to become connected. Use your voice to speak for the disenfranchised when decisions are being made for them without their inclusion. Or better yet, give up your seat in the room so they can finally, FINALLY join the conversation.

My constant prayer since the day that I became a mother has been for my children to never feel like they need approval to be who they are – unapologetic and awesome. That prayer has broadened recently to include all of us. May we all live long enough to exist in a world where we are all counted and gone are the days when one race of lives seemingly means more than others.

Enough is enough.

As I tell my children every day, “Birds never ask for permission to fly. They just do. Just like you never have to ask permission to be great or smart or included. Just be. That’s your inalienable right and it’s your blessing. Live it to the fullest.”

Call me on Monday if you want to talk. I’ll be at work.


Leave a Reply