Photo by User:Analogue_Kid from Wikimedia Commons
It is 4:12 PM on Saturday, and I am drunk and waiting to go on the Santa Maria. It is Experience Columbus Day, so the tours are half off. Live music and a taco truck are summoned to provide the festive atmosphere for this celebration of colonialism. This floating homage to genocide is a popular site for field trips; I remember going on one in early elementary school. As I wait for the tour to start, one such assortment of suburban teenagers is role-playing in front of the ship for some sort of official photo-op. In a truly transcendent bit of colorblindness, the person playing Christopher Columbus is a black girl, the sole presence of diversity in the group. I'm too far away to hear what they're saying, but it's obvious this girl is having trouble, because whenever they start the scene, she cracks up laughing, to the mystification of all the white people surrounding her. Certainly some of this is nerves, but she is also clearly on to something that her fellow cast members are not: the fundamentally absurd and terrifying nature of the presence of this 62-foot carrack on the Scioto River. The downtown riverfront in Columbus is beautiful, make no doubt about it. I Instagrammed the nighttime version with pride, and no filter, just a few weeks ago. Part of my beef with the Santa Maria is not just that it's a monument to genocide and imperialism, but also that it is some podunk shit. Columbus is a world-class city, specifically Gamma class according to the Globalization and World Cities rankings, putting us above Austin, Milwaukee, Islamabad, Las Vegas and Durban with a metro population of 1.8 million and the only serious growing economy in the state. Constructing a replica of a 500 year old boat as a premier tourist attraction is something you'd expect out of a town with three stoplights. Columbus has a maddening insecurity complex at times, one borne out of violently asserting one's right to be in a place but also constantly wanting to be somewhere else, indeed one found endemic to the condition of White America as a whole; we are the gyroscopic center, after all. The presence of the Santa Maria is a problem of us as we are now. This ship isn't some relic of a more problematic time where people were “just like that back then;” it was commissioned for the sesquicentennial in 1992. At a time when the Indigenous People's Day movement was just taking off, the City of Columbus decided to double down on a holiday that it already knew was illegitimate, hence me never getting the day off school. On Monday, the Twitter account for the television show Girls, tweeted a picture that said “stop being a cartographer and become an explorer,” along with the hashtag #ColumbusDay, and in many ways, this makes my point for me, and it is why a simple name change from “Columbus” to “Arawak City,” per the city's punks, or even decommissioning the Santa Maria will not solve the problem. This impulse to colonize, explore, to always need more, to never be satisfied with where you are, or what you have, this is not confined to history. In the Midwest, we forcibly removed a civilization in order to live here, and now we look for the first chance to get out. Colonialism, ethnic cleansing, greed, imperialism, these are not sins confined to white Americans by any means, but they are sins inherent in the founding of this nation, its rise and expansion, and its continued ethos. Reckoning with Columbus Day, then, is not just about a name or a ship, but about reckoning with whiteness as a political and social project, about understanding that this city was founded by and for white people. This reckoning is the most difficult dilemma this nation has to face. The reason we so often like to pretend that Native Americans are extinct is because it lets us pretend that we don't have to do anything. How does one truly decolonize? When faced with the prospect of truly dissolving the United States of America, even a self-professed anarchist such as myself starts to get queasy. And yet, the seductive liberal notion that if we just change enough names, write enough apologies, give enough money, we can make a nation built on injustice suddenly just, will only serve to pacify dissent. Occupy Oakland tore itself apart over this very same issue, but the lack of a ready answer only makes engaging the question even more imperative. However, getting rid of the Santa Maria (not just closing it down and moving it into the middle of the river for two years) would be a good start. If there is an insecurity endemic to the condition of people of color in America, it's one of constantly reassuring yourself that the people who oppressed your ancestors aren't still up to their old tricks, right? As you walk up Civic Center Dr, you're enchanted with the beauty of the skyline, you want to feel as though this is a city you're a part of. When the Santa Maria comes into view, you're reminded that the ship and the skyscrapers are part of the same project. The tour ends with the assertion that Columbus was successful because “the native cultures were primitive,” and as I exit the ship, the band starts covering the Lorde song “Royals,” that paean to middle-class populism wherein the singer proclaims that she's in love with being queen. It appears that constant need for more extends to New Zealand as well. Address all hate mail to