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raceAhead: Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day

October 8, 2018, 6:10 PM UTC

In ways large and small, the country has begun to re-think the second Monday in October, wondering collectively whether a holiday devoted to Christopher Columbus reflects the country we are or want to become.

Last year, Los Angeles became the biggest city to date to stop celebrating the Italian explorer, and instead honor the indigenous people whose lives were destroyed by the enslavement, violence, colonialism, and plunder that Columbus is now understood to have unleashed.

This year, Columbus, Ohio, named for the explorer himself, finally pulled the plug. It canceled its own Columbus Day celebration, held in an 88-acre Disney Epcot-like park that was built in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his famous voyage. Even then, the opening of the park drew sharp protests from indigenous activists.

But instead of citing politics or the growing movement to embrace Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the mayor’s office said budget was to blame; the city doesn’t have funds to give 8,500 employees the day off for two federal holidays. “We chose to close on Veterans Day instead of Columbus Day to honor those who have served our country,” a spokesperson told The Washington Post.

Whatever gets you there.

More than a dozen U.S. cities including San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver, Cincinnati and Austin, Texas, and at least 16 states, including Alaska, Minnesota, Vermont, Oregon, and Hawaii, have all abandoned Columbus Day events to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day in some form. “Columbus Day is a relic of an outdated and oversimplified version of history,” Joe Cutatone, the mayor of Somerville, Mass, wrote when announcing the decision last month.

Not everyone is happy about the switch. Many Italian American groups see the holiday as a way to celebrate their own survival as immigrants, not the erasure of someone else’s pain. “We had a very difficult time in this country for well over a hundred years,” Basil Russo of the Order of Italian Sons and Daughters of America told The Associated Press. “Columbus Day is a day that we’ve chosen to celebrate who we are. And we’re entitled to do that just as they are entitled to celebrate who they are.”

But Cutatone says it’s not the only way to celebrate. “This issue is a lot like the Confederate flag for southerners,” he told CNN. “As an Italian-American it feels good that there is an official holiday that is nominally about us. Yet the specifics of this holiday run so deep into human suffering that we need to shift our pride elsewhere.”

The debate is measured and heartfelt and effective—particularly if you’re willing to overlook the ways many indigenous communities in North America have yet to find even the most basic relief from the legacy of their treatment: Abandoned by the economic system, beset by poverty, environmental toxins, and violence, while parodied as mascots of teams owned by millionaires.

Sure, there is plenty of work yet to do, but it all feels like a step in the right direction.

Maybe it’s because the issue hasn’t been inflamed by alt-right message makers who may not be prepared to make room in their tiny tent for descendants of Columbus.

But I’d really like to believe that it’s also because there is no defense for what Columbus did or what ultimately happened to the people who, as the bitter joke goes, discovered him standing on their beach.

The debate about Columbus Day seems like a vision of ourselves that feels increasingly unfamiliar these days: We can talk about hard things and survive it. We can think about the past with compassion for others and ourselves. And nobody has to disappear.

Enjoy some new poetry by indigenous women here. Here’s a fascinating map of pre-colonial indigenous lands, if you’re curious about who lived in your town before “settlers” showed up.

This column is an updated version of a similar one from last year.

On Point

A network of black women hope to revive longstanding voter support networks in the SouthThis is a series of interviews conducted with more than 50 extraordinary women who are using familiar and still necessary tactics to organize and deliver votes for candidates who support inclusive policies and decry voter suppression. “When you invest in a black woman, she brings her house, her block, her church and her story,” said Glynda C. Carr, the leader of one such organization. The work comes at a painful time, with the spirits of typically reliable citizens dampened by years of increasing alienation. “Organizers hear from reluctant voters about black men being killed by police, health insurance out of reach, school budgets cut and local economic development thwarted, even after the election of a black president,” reports Susan Chira.New York Times

The importance of black tech conferences
There is a thriving and growing ecosystem of tech conferences for black technologists and entrepreneurs—they are, as Sherrell Dorsey beautifully put it, “a family reunion of sorts; the kind where all of your #BlackTwitter cousins meet in real life to nerd out…” Her investigation examined more than fifteen annual such conferences and found demonstrable value for participants, particularly for people who don’t have access to larger, predominantly white tech events. She ticks through a variety of findings that are essential for any conference planner to consider, but also this: “[t]he Black tech conference, is reshaping how a generation of innovators finds and feels connected to the broader technology conversation which has traditionally been dominated by a pervasive white male “bro culture.”

John Hopkins names a building after Henrietta Lacks
The announcement came with the blessing of Lacks’s descendants, a long overdue tribute to her contribution to science and medicine. Lacks, who was African American, was the source of the HeLa cell line that has become an indispensable part of medical research; she died at John Hopkins from cancer in 1951. Her complicated life, death, and her family’s struggle to be recognized for Lacks’s role in science became well known after the 2010 publication of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. The new research building will support programs that “enhance participation with members of the community in mutually beneficial research opportunities.”
CBS Baltimore

Taylor Swift wades into politics
The pop star delighted fans when she endorsed two Tennessee Democrats, ending her longstanding reluctance to express her views. She had strong things to say denouncing systemic racism and sexism and in support of LGBTQ rights. Her silence had, in part, made her an unwilling darling of the alt-right and a controversial figure. After PopFront editor Meghan Herning wrote a post titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation,” wondering aloud of Swift’s lyrics and imagery offer silent support to white supremacists, she received a strongly worded letter from the singer’s attorney calling the essay defamatory and demanding a retraction. The ACLU said the essay was protected speech. “The post is [also] a mix of political speech and critical commentary, and discusses the resurgence of white supremacy and the fact that some white supremacists have embraced Swift,” says the ACLU.

The Woke Leader

The world celebrated the 101st birthday of Fannie Lou Hamer on Saturday
The words of the civil rights leader’s most famous speech still resonate, particularly in discouraging times. Hamer had traveled from Mississippi to address the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City; her now famous speech addressed two pressing issues: Voter suppression and state-sanctioned violence against black voters. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said to an audience of millions. And then she told the unvarnished truth. She’d been detained by police after leading a voter’s rights workshop in South Carolina the year before. “They beat me till my body was hard, till I couldn’t bend my fingers or get up when they told me to,” she told the crowd. “That’s how I got this blood clot in my left eye — the sight’s nearly gone now. And my kidney was injured from the blows they gave me in the back.”

Reclaiming the term “redneck”
The original term was an inclusive one, and it dates back to 1921 when black and white coal miners in West Virginia rose up against exploitative mine owners and protested brutal and unsafe working conditions. The march, precipitated by a series of strikes, turned into a war, quite literally, becoming one of the bloodiest labor conflicts in U.S. history. Mine operators had long sought to sow racial discord by breaking strikes by importing lower-paid black miners, but the United Mine Workers union fought against segregation and for pay equity. The miners faced a paid army of mercenaries, including private planes who dropped bombs on the workers. Miners wore red bandanas to identify each other while fighting.
The Guardian

When artificial intelligence write advertising copy
This has less to do with race and more to do with the pervasive fear knowledge that an algorithm will come for all of our jobs someday. I offer this, the first known series of commercial spots written by AI as evidence that at least for now, the future is hilariously acceptable and flame-broiled, just like you.


But so they are, incurably timid. It is true that, after they have been reassured and have lost this fear, they are so guileless and so generous with all that they possess, that no one would believe it who has not seen it. They refuse nothing that they possess, if it be asked of them; on the contrary, they invite any one to share it and display as much love as if they would give their hearts. They are content with whatever trifle of whatever kind that may be given to them, whether it be of value or valueless. I forbade that they should be given things so worthless as fragments of broken crockery, scraps of broken and lace tips, although when they were able to get them, they fancied that they possessed the best jewel in the world... I gave them a thousand handsome good things, which I had brought, in order that they might conceive affection for us and, more than that, might become Christians and be inclined to the love and service of Your Highnesses and of the whole Castilian nation, and strive to collect and give us of the things which they have in abundance and which are necessary to us.
Christopher Columbus, letter to King Ferdinand of Spain