I found myself checking out the Op-Ed section of the Chelsea Record recently and finding the wildest opinion piece so of course here I am to respond to it because I have So. Many. Thoughts.
First of all, I cannot believe how long I have slept on the Chelsea Record! I’d see it in passing on my visits to local stores but would pick one up maybe once every few months, leaf around, and then forget about. After I started keeping up with City Council meetings on YouTube, and especially The Meeting that had all of Chelsea abuzz, reading the Chelsea Record became the only way to better keep up with the conversations, so I started! And I have yet to be disappointed!! Until… this particular Op-Ed by a Mr. Richard (Rick) Smigielski.
A couple things about Mr. Rick Smigielski that are apparent from reading this article: he is most definitely a straight white man who lives in the U.S. I know this because only someone who has blindly coasted on the backs of other’s oppression would possibly say things so wildly out of touch with reality and others’ experiences. This context isn’t necessary (you will see once I lay out the content of said article) but it is important again to see why he said the things he did.
Last month, a group of Chelsea High School students (it is important to remember that they are students!) went to a City Council meeting and urged the Councilors to vote to remove the Christopher Columbus statue that had been up in town. This has been an incredibly common topic of discussion in towns and cities throughout the United States due to CC’s incredibly racist existence.
I wish I could tell you that Mr. Smigielski doesn’t know better! I want to assume he writes this defense of Lil Chris because he doesn’t know all the harm that man’s actions have caused but he directly references it here when he writes, “True, there are numerous negative aspects of the effects of his voyages. The use of torture and mutilation of people when governing Hispaniola and his use of slavery and the spreading of deadly diseases are recorded as a result of his voyages [emphasis mine]” so this isn’t a result of not knowing. The decision to spend time and to defend a racist says a lot about the writer’s character, values, and priorities. Namely that the writer likely agrees with at least some of the racist’s actions, the writer values the racist as an individual, and that the writer prioritizes the feelings of this (dead, cold, body is literally dust at this point) racist over the lived feelings and experiences of fellow Chelsea residents.
I want to respond more directly to what Mr. Smigielski wrote, so in this section I’ll be including direct quotes from the article.
In the last 40 years liberal, left wing, Neo-Marxist educators have written books, taught and propagandized the American people to believing that Christopher Columbus was an evil man.
The first time I learned that CC was anything more than the guy who directed the Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria and brought us the pilgrims, I was probably about 14. For 14 years of my life I had been learning about CC every year around Thanksgiving and every year. For 14 years I was a fed a sanitized version that said nothing about the violent acts he committed. We were told stories of the peaceful encounters between CC and the Native Americans. Our teachers reminded us constantly that they broke bread together and shared their cultures with one another. If that isn’t propaganda. . . . .
To finally read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History (and not even the full book!! Howard BODIES CC in the prologue I’m so serious) and learn that we had constantly been lied to in our curricula up until that point was bewildering. I didn’t leave that reading / class / year thinking that CC was evil, but I did leave thinking that the people who decided to pretend he wasn’t evil, were.
You see, intentionally erasing history or pretending bad things have never happened in history shows that you know that they’re bad. It is simply violence for a person to decide that they and they alone are entitled to both sides of a story. In only giving us the good, teachers never allowed us to come to our own conclusions about this man. They were giving us one and one way to think about him and his impact on this stolen land.
The Columbian Exchange brought to the Americas the coffee bean, citrus fruits, onions, grains such as rice, wheat and oats, and Livestock such as pigs, the horse, cattle and sheep, and yes, diseases as well.
I just have a quick question on this one:
What do you think is more harmful: not knowing what an orange is or contracting smallpox from a foreigner who showed up and thinks he owns the place?
Mr. Smigielski uses this paragraph to highlight all the wonderful things CC has made possible for the Americas (and he goes on to talk about the world, too). They’re all factual, of course! But I promise that none of the students who came into the City Council meeting that day were upset because we can buy onions at Market Basket. I love oatmeal just as much as the next person don’t want a statue of a racist in my city simply because he advanced trade at the time.
When someone says, “XYZ person does not deserve a statue in our city due to their racist and oppressive lifestyle” the response should not be a laundry list of all the good things they’ve done. When someone flips you off in traffic, the response isn’t “well! they ate their vegetables today!” because that has literally nothing to do with the topic at hand! This discussion isn’t and never was about his positive achievements*.
*Said achievements that are not his singular doing. Said achievements would not have been impossible without him, probably just staggered throughout time and with a little less deadly force most likely
But probably the most important idea brought to us through the Columbian Exchange was the future path and idea of a new way of governing with the concept of freedom and liberty and the formation of our Constitution and the creation of the United States of America, the greatest most successful nation in history.
The idea that the United States… THESE United States… are what’s being called “the greatest most successful nation in history” simply needs its own section just so I can add a reaction meme. (If you’re over the age of 70, a reaction meme is basically a picture)
The posting went live this month and you’re at least 70 so you’ve had at least that many years of experience in this great and successful nation where:
- women make less money than men in the exact same job, doing the exact same thing, and probably getting sexually harassed or ostracized because of their gender
- you cannot raise a family on minimum wage
- health care is tied to employment (a “work-or-die” mentality shouldn’t need to be the case for the greatest most successful nation in history but that’s just me)
- little to no regulation on the cost of prescription drugs or treatments that people need to stay alive, forcing people to choose because their prescribed medication or keeping the lights on
- the rich continue to get rich on the backs of the poor, even in a pandemic
- over half a million people died in this nation due to piss poor government response to the virus
- voter suppression exists to this day !
- there are enough homes / buildings in this country to house everyone and yet we have a major houseless population AND to add insult to injury we intentionally keep houseless people out of sight via uncomfortable (and usually unsightly) urban design practices
- people who have been in US cages: innocent people who cannot afford bail, people (and their children) fleeing their home countries for a modicum of safety, Japanese people and people of Japanese descent, etc
- hate crimes all the way down
- the cost of higher education continues to rise while the quality of the education doesn’t improve (the quality of college sports coaches’ cars improves annually along with tuition rates! interesting!)
- related, we spend more on military than we do for education or pretty much anything else
- children are forced to pay for food at a place where they’re required by law to be at for 6+ hours per day, regardless of if their families can afford it or not (*save for specific schools, grants, districts that have made steps to combat this. regardless it is not enough)
- to this day we still have cases going in front of judges essentially asking if it’s okay to discriminate against people (see: bathroom law for trans people; Black girls wearing their natural hair in school; selling wedding cakes to gay couples, kneeling on a man’s neck for 8 straight minutes, etc)
- our incarceration rate is the highest in the world, so yeah i guess we are successful at that !!
This nation is a dumpster fire so PLEASE lend me your rose colored glasses because I too want to look around and think of this place as “the greatest most successful nation in history”. (Y’all see why Mr. Smigielski’s race was important earlier?)
Just an editing note, from writer to writer: instead of saying that the Columbian Exchange brought us “a new way of governing” you could say it “de-legitimatized any government structures that didn’t align with European elites, regardless of how well they were working and for how long they had been in place” -> it gets the same idea across but with actual information rather than the rosier view you decided to give it!
If a group in power determines to disqualify a historical figure based on its own definition of a social norm and then disapprove practices of the past social norm then we, as a society, will not have any figures to commemorate for a source of inspiration.
First of all: *stares in Colonized*
Secondly: what exactly about CC is inspiring to you? Quickly….
What is the social norm that you’re referring to? Commemorating racists? Yeah, we don’t do that anymore, keep up x
If you need figures to commemorate you can start with the Massa-adchu-es-et and Pawtucket leaders on whose land you and I both live.
I’m getting tired and y’all are getting The Point so let me know if you want me to continue and do a Part 2!! Otherwise, keep fighting the good fight my sweet pals ❤ don’t let ANYONE gaslight u about CC xoxo