Last Columbus Day, the oatmeal published a comic arguing that we should ditch celebrating Columbus in favor of las Casas, a Spanish priest who preached against the enslavement of and cruelty towards the indigenous people of Latin America. I’m seeing it circulating again, and I just want to voice my discomfort: yes, it’s true that las Casas was a “better” man in the sense that he saw the error of his ways (he spent the first half of his life owning a slave plantation) and became “better.” But, to be fair, the bar for human decency when talking about colonization was set pretty low. He was “better” because he didn’t actively support barbarically enslaving, torturing, and murdering the people of the Americas…not in the sense that he saw them as human beings equal to the Spanish, and deserving of the same rights and protections. On the contrary, las Casas wrote about the natives as though they were simple, docile, and completely childlike, uninterested in wealth and knowledge. He wrote,
God created these simple people without evil and without guile. They are most obedient and faithful to their natural lords and to the Christians whom they serve. They are most submissive, patient, peaceful and virtuous. Nor are they quarrelsome, rancorous, querulous, or vengeful. Moreover they are more delicate than princes and die easily from work or illness [x].
These writings helped create the basis of the extremely condescending myth of the “noble savage,” which continued for centuries onward.
The point is, I don’t think we should be celebrating someone for being a bit better than Columbus - we shouldn’t be celebrating any individual connected to Spanish colonization at all.