When you think about it, though, part of what’s great about America is that political dialogue in this country isn’t dominated by calls to reconsider Columbus Day or any kind of deep effort to ponder the meaning of being a nation founded on ethnic cleansing and slavery. That’s not to say that we don’t still grapple with the consequences of those events or that mainstream white America couldn’t stand to grapple harder with them. But unlike in some countries I’ve visited recently, it’s perfectly possible to probe an American for a while about his political views without being treated to a lengthy ax-grinding historical narrative.Absolutely. I think that a lot of things about contemporary American culture are the result of past horrors like slavery and the Indian wars, but I agree with Yglesias that too much worrying about the past makes for bad politics in the present. No amount of apology will undo those harms, and what we know about human character and success tells us that focusing too much on past oppressions only exacerbates ethnic tensions and makes it harder for the children of the oppressed to succeed. I am aware that as a member of the most privileged ethnic group in world history I open to accusations of bias on this, but I am not talking about me. I am a historian, and I spent a lot of time pondering past injustices. I read about them for pleasure. My experience with black political and business leaders is that they don't want to hear about slavery and would rather celebrate stories of black success, if they want to deal with the past at all. Which many don't. So while I wouldn't personally participate in a Columbus Day "celebration," I think we should all celebrate living in a world where nobody much cares.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Let's Not Reconsider
Matt Yglesias, just back from Israel, responds to a video urging Americans to reconsider Columbus Day: