For some of you, today is Columbus Day. For others it is Indigenous Peoples day and for the rest of you, it’s Monday.
Christopher Columbus was an Italian sailor who wandered around the Caribbean and the Americas capturing and raping indigenous peoples. For his troubles, he is said to have “discovered” what we now know as the United States, an attribution that—just as he did—leaves out the worth of the millions of people who had been living here for a very, very long time.
Objectively, fuck Christopher Columbus.
However, one of the few helpful things he did was inadvertently give us a word for the phenomenon when someone (specifically a white someone) takes or is given credit for discovering something that existed long before it came to that individual’s attention.
Columbusing lives in the vast neighborhood of cultural appropriation, but contains the specific insult of acting like the (white) person in question has come across a cool new thing—all while erasing that thing’s true origins and probably, definitely, not properly compensating the originators.
So on this non-holiday, let’s look back at what Christopher Columbus really inspired. This, as well as the genocide of millions of indigenous people, is his legacy.
“We built this country.”*
*Uttered most often and notably by old angry white people usually while they’re protesting something progressive and inevitable.
In the most literal sense, I would argue that America was allowed to be built by Native Americans who magnanimously did not murder the random pilgrim people who rolled up to their shores, but instead gave them farming advice.
That was followed by two hundred years of free African slave labor that laid the economic foundation for America and built some neat buildings like the U.S. Capitol.
Then of course we had all that Chinese manpower that was instrumental in building the Transcontinental Railroad... are you getting the picture?
So yeah, no.
Rock and Roll
The fact that Elvis Presley is considered the “King of Rock and Roll” tells you just about everything you need to know. Elvis was cool and all, but he was basically a pretty white boy who learned how to move his hips and jack the style of black artists with exceptional flair. To be fair, Elvis himself did admit to being heavily influenced by black blues singers, but many, many others did not get that memo.
Ah, Pier 1, everyone’s fourth or fifth favorite store for somewhat reasonably priced homewares and Christmas decorations. Have you ever walked into a Pier 1 and thought, “something about this just doesn’t...
If you need further proof, this is how the company describes its origins:
Pier 1 Imports started as a single store in San Mateo, California, in 1962. Our first customers were post-World War II baby boomers looking for beanbag chairs, love beads and incense.
“Oh, I don’t really listen to rap. I’m more into, conscious hip hop. Like, music that has a real message, ya know? You should really listen to some Brother Ali.”
That’s just your friend Connor acting like he’s the first motherfucker to hear a Common record and failing to realize that if Common or Talib Kweli make “music with a message,” then so did N.W.A.
Hamsa/Yin Yang/ Chinese Lettering/Tribal Tattoos
I knew these two white girls who both got yin yang tattoos and one got salty about it because she thought her friend had copied her.
[Insert similar story for all of the above.]
It was really nice of that angry, screaming white man to bravely be an original settler of Brooklyn. The Columbusing of Brooklyn gets special props for most closely resembling the actual methods of Christopher Columbus.
I’m not a hummus scholar, but I do know that people in the Middle East have been eating hummus for a long damn time—probably around the time they were inventing algebra. Then Sabra came along and convinced Americans that hummus was new and hip and ~ethnic~ but just ethnic enough so it wasn’t weird or smelly or anything.
No, I have not tried that new drink called Kombucha, but its name comes from the Japanese words for “black tea toadstool” (nice) so I’m pretty sure East Asian people have been brewing that shit for centuries, and maybe let’s reexamine how we use the word “new” in this scenario.
The fact that when many people think of yoga, they think of $100 leggings and willowy suburban moms and Gwyneth Paltrow nagging us all about it is a testament to the incredible power of eradication that is Columbusing. When is the last time you thought, “Oh yes, yoga, that Indian spiritual practice that is thousands of years old,” instead of, “Oh yes, yoga, that new fitness studio on my block where those skinny white people are charging $35 a class.”
We can thank Coachella and probably Vanessa Hudgens personally for this one.
She was later joined by such Hindu scholars as Selena Gomez, Sarah Hyland and, naturally, Kylie Jenner.
The amazing thing about the Coachella bindi backlash was that, even while discussing whether or not it was appropriate for celebrities to wear bindis, (it wasn’t) or if it should be considered cultural appropriation (it should)—people continued to refer to bindis as a “trend.” Incredible work.
Your friend Brad who wants to take you to “the absolute best pho restaurant in the whole city” or Holly asking if you want to get Indian food but just warning you that the place she likes makes it really spicy so just be careful, ok?
Classic Brad. Classic Holly.
People living in the Andes have been growing and eating quinoa for thousands years ago were unable to afford the grain after vegans in America “discovered it” and started proselytizing to all their vegan friends—the Christopher Columbus method of globalization.
Oil Pulling, a technique of Ayurvedic medicine, became the hot “new” thing a little over a year ago and spawned dozens of unnecessary articles titled things like “I Tried the New Oil Pulling Trend and Learned Something Important About My Oral Health and Complete Lack of Self-Awareness.”
Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls
Do you recall Gwen Stefani making it a point to remind us all that her Harajuku Girls were obvious references to a pre-existing Japanese street fashion culture (one that includes a number of other subcultures) and not just some cool thing she decided to get into because human props are fun? I actually don’t remember her doing that. I do, however, remember her trademarking “Harajuku Girl”so she can sell us perfume decorated with Japanese characters and Japanese lettering that I’m willing to bet she cannot actually read.
Twerking (Miley Cyrus)
Miley Cyrus has become the reference point for twerking (for white people) while every stripper in Atlanta wonders what she’s been doing for the past 20 years.
Big Butt Trend Pieces (Kim Kardashian)
It was so nice of Kim Kardashian to be the first woman ever to have a big butt and use it to her professional advantage. What a visionary, a true trailblazer—Shut up, Jennifer Lopez, we’re talking about something important right now.
Bad news, boo: While Iggy may be the first white female rapper to become as famous as she is, she is nowhere near the first. Lady Sovereign was cute for a little while and people were pretty down with Kreayshawn before they realized she was literally unable to write raps. The point is, they existed and nobody hated them as much as they hate Iggy.
Iggy Azalea is actually attempting to Columbus from other white people and I believe now, ladies and gentlemen, Christopher Columbus’ legacy has truly come full circle.
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Images via Getty, Wikipedia. Top image by Bobby Finger.