14 Hundred and 92

Small Justices

We just completed a three-day celebration of “Oppression of a Native People by a Foreign Colonialist” Day. Sales—online and in stores—as well as school and business holidays marked the occasion. What, then, were we celebrating? Columbus certainly possessed courage; I wouldn’t set to sea for parts unknown sans GPS. And he had loyalty: he did what he did for God and country.

But Columbus also accepted social and religious mores that made him act unjustly. In elementary school I learned: “In 14 hundred and 92 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The rhyme could continue, “Claimed another’s land and charged, ‘Believe as I do.’” A product of his time, Columbus basically told residents of “his” discovered country to convert or live as slaves.

What’s my point in rehashing all this business? It’s not as if we can return to 14 hundred and 92 and give Columbus a talking to (bad rhyme intended). We can, however, learn from Columbus—from his courage and his loyalty as well as from his major missteps.

In the aftermath of Columbus Day, we can choose to think for ourselves: to question policies that undermine justice for all, and to recognize “spin” in everything from political debate to television commercials. Also, we can recognize that history written solely by vanquishers is not history, but propaganda. History’s story requires numerous points of view, including that of the vanquished. And we can seek to act justly. Each day provides myriad opportunities, from choosing not to muscle our way into traffic or the check-out line to learning a service worker’s name and expressing our gratitude.

The voyage of 1492 forever changed history—with mixed results. Where do we go from here? 2014 is our year to set sail, seeking justice for all. And that’s never a small journey.

There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.~Mahatma Gandhi


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