Let’s talk history. Not pre-Columbian history or even 1492 history, but 2002. Seventeen years ago.
It was early fall and season four of The Sopranos was just getting rolling. Episode three of that season, titled “Christopher,” opens on Tony Soprano’s goons sitting outside a butcher shop doing their Mafiosi thing. One of them calls out “Oh! Massachusetts!” as a car drives by, playing a time-passing game of spotting license plates for money. It was a cold, dark era before smartphones, folks. Then Bobby (a soft-spoken mobster) starts reading from the newspaper. “Listen to this shit,” he laments. “The New Jersey Council of Indian Affairs has announced plans to disrupt Monday’s Columbus Day parade in Newark.”
This does not go over well with the cadre of Italian-Americans sitting at the table. The racial slurs and incriminations get to the point where young Christopher Moltisanti — no doubt named after Columbus — interjects with, “you gotta admit, they did get massacred, the Indians.” That too is met with dismissal from enforcer Silvio who feels personally affronted –“It’s not like we didn’t give them a bunch of shit to make up for that!”
This was all played for a joke on The Sopranos, but that sentiment is something every Indigenous person in the Americas lives with every single day of our lives. We hear it from our seemingly woke friends and sometimes our own relatives. As if we’re meant to say, “Thank you, kind colonizers, for giving us pieces of our ancestral land and letting us play roulette on it.”
Why rehash this scene from a TV show that stopped airing more than a decade ago? Because while most social justice issues have seen some sort of progress in that time, this cold open is still indicative of where we are today. Columbus’s real place in history remains fraught with myth, outright lies, and denial driven by colonial and migrant pride.
Meanwhile, the overt marginalization of Indigenous peoples marches on. Just check out this screengrab from a baseball game played in October 2019.
Man, I can’t believe the kind of stuff they put on TV back in the… OMG THAT’S FROM TONIGHT SERIOUSLY SO BAD. pic.twitter.com/MXUWYVvHIU
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) October 10, 2019
See, if you’re Indigenous, you cannot even turn on a TV and watch sports without being reminded of your culture’s destruction. Our obliteration is signposted on Columbus Ave. and Columbus Circle and the cities and towns that bear the raper and pillager’s name. So expect people to protest on Columbus Day. Expect to see a few tweets go viral. And do celebrate “Indigenous People’s Day” instead. But also know that the wound of Columbus goes far beyond a day in October. Columbus is someone who’s penetrated deep into the American psyche.