This whole story started when The Oatmeal published a piece over the weekend basically letting everyone know that Christopher Columbus wasn’t the most humane guy in history (not a surprise), and that more attention should be paid to Bartolomé de las Casas, who according to the piece, was “considered to be one of the first advocates for universal human rights.” The piece suggested that we should be celebrating “Bartolomé Day.”
As you can imagine, such a suggestion didn’t sit well with some, especially feminist blogger Patricia Valoy, who wrote a very convincing counterpiece called “No, I will Not Celebrate Bartolomé Day.” A bit of her piece, which is a must read:
In 1510 Bartolomé de las Casas was ordained as a Catholic piest, and in 1522 became a friar in the Dominican order. Soon he was known as an advocate for the rights of Amerindians. However, in his early writings he advocated for African slaves to be imported and used for hard labor in lieu of Amerindians. While Christopher Columbus introduced slavery and diseases to the Amerindians, causing their numbers to decrease so sharply colonizers went to West Africa in search of slave labor, it was Bartolomé de las Casas that also grandfathered the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Las Casas also never campaigned for the abolition of slavery. His main objective was to find a way to peacefully convert Amerindians to the Catholic faith, even saying that the Spaniard’s were so brutal in their conquest and treated Amerindians so harshly that they died without being evangelized.
“and so sollicitous they were of their Life and Soul, that the above-mentioned number of People died without understanding the true Faith or Sacraments.” (Excerpt from Devastation of the Indies)
But I will give Las Casas credit where credit is due. He did change his mind after another moral enlightenment, years later. Otherwise, he seemed indifferent to the plight of African slaves.
She later adds this:
And although we can argue that Bartolomé de las Casas was in many ways less of a genocidal megalomaniac compared to Christopher Columbus (among many other conquistadores), I refuse to celebrate “Bartolomé Day” in lieu of “Christopher Columbus” day.
I will not dedicate a holiday to a man that embodies imperialism and colonialism.
Today we should be remembering the indigenous peoples who suffered and continue to suffer needlessly at the hands of imperialists. They deserve praise!
Why does it always have to be about a white savior?
Valoy is not the only one calling out The Oatmeal. We also found this piece, called, “Seriously, Screw the Oatmeal.” One of our favorite sections:
But again, The Oatmeal continues its habit of lionizing people who don’t necessarily deserve it. Bartolomé de las Casas was probably a very good person, but he was also the father of the African slave trade in the Americans. That didn’t make The Oatmeal’s writeup, of course. According to what I was taught in high school, the treatment of the native slaves appalled de las Casas, and he was certain it would result in all of them dying. His recommended solution? Bring over slaves from Africa and use them instead. He thought that they were hardier, and would survive it better. His behavior was more admirable than Columbus, but that’s like saying that a cat is more tree-like than a dog. They both did bad things and helped expand the slave trade. So that’s The Oatmeal’s hero.
In fairness, the Oatmeal now includes the following addition to its original post:
This issue keeps coming up and, despite my footnotes, I keep seeing commentary about it so I’m going to address it here.
Initially, Bartolomé de las Casas advocated the use of African slaves instead of native labor. In the first few years after he renounced his land and title, his initial cause was to end the suffering of the natives, rather than seeking an end to the institution of slavery itself, and so this became his deplorable rationale for the endorsement of African slavery. Bartolomé de las Casas eventually retracted those views, however, and came to see all forms of slavery as being equally wrong. In The History of the Indies published in 1527, he wrote the following:
“I soon repented and judged myself guilty of ignorance. I came to realize that black slavery was as unjust as Indian slavery… and I was not sure that my ignorance and good faith would secure me in the eyes of God.”
I know that the discovery of the New World means a lot of different things to a lot of different cultures. I like the sound of Bartolomé Day. If you don’t like that, call it Indigenous People’s Day. Or perhaps Chris-Columbus-was-a-turd Day. I’d even settle for just calling it MONDAY.
But please, oh please
do not call it Columbus Day.
Ok, but don’t call it Bartolomé Day, either. If you really want to push something, what about Indigenous People Day? Because in the end, these Europeans guys discovered nothing.