The newspaper Die Presse has something to say about the toppling down of the colonial statues of Columbus in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. Labeled as “History”, it gives its platform to explain what is “wrong” with these actions. In that attempt, the newspaper relativizes the facts and consequences of the colonization of the Americas, and in doing so irresponsibly misinforms those who read it.
Die Presse publishes: “To clarify the question of genocide (…) In fact, 90 percent of the Caribbean natives died in the first years of the conquest. But they were not victims of cannons or muskets, but of swine flu. Later, smallpox and measles carried off large parts of the Mexican population. It took over a generation for everyone to have antibodies. The Europeans had long since been immunized. Sooner or later, the peoples of “the two Americas”, isolated for thousands of years, would have come into deadly contact with the viruses, whether by discovery, conquest or trade.”
It is presented as an unavoidable misfortune that the indigenous peoples lacked “exposure” and that to some extent the Spaniard accelerated a process of immunization that was inevitable. This follows the pattern that European history is the history that all of humanity has to go through. But not only is this not true, it omits the use of disease transmission as a non-accidental virological weapon.
As for the acts of violence committed by the colonizers, they are deemed to have been “less excessive than in wars between the American peoples themselves, and in many cases they were punished by the Spanish Crown.” It argues: “A targeted genocide would not have been in keeping with the Spanish people’s motives at all: they wanted gold, spices and food – and to grow the latter they needed the labour of the natives.”
>> Right, just as they didn’t kill enslaved people because they needed their labour.
The article continues stating how Spanish colonization would “deserve that Statues are erected rather than being toppled – not for the discoverer, but for his employer. The “Catholic Queen” Isabella of Castile … stopped the enslavement trade.. ([except] for the enslavement of “cannibals”) until her grandson Charles V banned any form of slavery in the Viceroyalty – centuries before its abolition in the USA.” >> What?
As for the destruction of cultural heritage: “This resulted in some heavy losses for the cultural heritage, such as the destruction of Tenochtitlan and the burning of the Mayan legal texts. But to condemn the Spaniards for this is to measure them against the criteria of the 21st century. Even Immanuel Kant wrote in “Of the Different Races” that mankind had attained its “greatest perfection” in the “race of the whites””.
>> Time here seems to be lost. Kant’s work of inscribing the ideological results of colonization into academic language was done hundreds of years after the initial stages of destruction of cultural heritage. They are different contributions to the construction of white supremacy, both requiring accountability.
The article also seeks to use the winners/losers argument and implies that oppressing others was “shared by those who were on the side of the strongest, whether in Europe, Asia or indigenous America.”
>> This notion of people oppress people in all societies is false following archeological historical data. But even if it would be true, as a society we should in all escenarios be seeking to right historical wrongs. So we should always advocate against the injustice of our oppression and not relativize this with the idea that everybody gets its turn at being the oppressor.
A misinformed paragraph speaks of views where Spaniards believe themselves to be racially and culturally superior in facing the people of Abya Yala, and how the change in this perspective can be traced already to the Queen Isabel decreeing Spaniards should marry “Indians”.
>> This misses some very known facts about marrying being a way of acquiring native property legally by marriage, of dealing with the consequences of systematic rape, and of securing wives for free care-work to sustain the colonizing enterprise.
Under the subtitle “Spaniards as language saviors” the article states that “Missionaries learned the languages of the natives to convert them. More than 30 universities with chairs for this purpose. Books were also printed in indigenous idioms – this was the only way they could survive in the cultures of the Andes until today, since they did not know any writing, ”
>> Not true. There were several systems of keeping track of knowledge that wanted to be transmitted (manuscripts, quipus, calendars, etc.). These were understood as potential decolonizing tools by the colonizers and orders were given for their complete destruction. What was not destroyed was removed from the culture and sent to curiosity cabinets, which later passed on to museums.
The article finally closes with: “No, the closer you look, the less suitable is the heritage of Columbus for a culture war under the banner of “Black Lives Matter”. What the Hispanic Council highlights are the fruits of the meeting of cultures: Europeans brought the wheat, the vine, the domestic pig, the printing press and the horse (which had been extinct in the New World for centuries). But they were also richly endowed: with the tomato, the chocolate and the potato, which saved Europe from many famines. It is this praise of commonality, of shared culture, for all the historical injustice and suffering, that is barely audible in the din of the fallen monuments.”
What these toppled down monuments mean is we no longer agree to live under the lies of a system of reality that denies our humanity and teaches to praise our murderers. Fortunately it is not up to a council to or to Die Presse to decide what will happen. Our movements will continue standing up for equality and social justice and rewriting history.
The article is not accessible online without an abo. So I uploaded it here in German, English and Spanish so those affected by what is written here can have access to read it.