Why I Blogged Today, Even Though Columbus Day was Yesterday

Anyone who has followed my blog over the last several months would’ve noticed that I don’t blog on weeks of federal holidays. It was a practice I started with Independence Day and Labor Day, and I will continue this habit with Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day in the next few weeks.

But this practice will not extend to Columbus Day. Not this year, and probably not ever.

The reason is that, quite honestly, this blog is supposed to expose injustices instead of celebrate them. As a result, I felt that not posting for the week of Columbus Day would be a de facto celebration of Columbus and a number of injustices related to him and the way he is celebrated.

I am not going to go into all of the injustices related to Columbus, but here are a few:

  1. When Columbus got involved in “America” (which wasn’t actually America but places in the Caribbean like Haiti), he and his people enslaved many, treated many people brutally, and saw many people die as a result of mistreatment from him and those who helped him. It’s fair to say that people in the West Indies weren’t exactly flourishing while he was the governor there.
  2. Columbus and his entourage claimed the land for themselves, even though other people were on the territory many years before they “discovered” it. This sort of claiming of land is not worth celebrating.
  3. The way Columbus treated indigenous people in America started a pattern of how Europeans often brutally treated indigenous people in the New World. In other words, this pattern of mass enslavement and brutality against indigenous people continued for many years after Columbus died. Basically, Columbus was a trendsetter in all the wrong ways. This is also nothing to be celebrated.
  4. Brutality aside, he was not the first person to discover America, because that was actually done many centuries before Columbus went on his voyage. For that matter, he was not even the first European to discover America, as there is strong evidence of a Viking presence in Newfoundland. Actually, Columbus never even landed in mainland North America, in spite of the continuously popular myth of his “discovering” America. So Columbus Day is a holiday that is built on all sorts of false premises about what he “discovered.” As a result, even the way he is celebrated is, in a way, unjust.

I am not a scholar on Christopher Columbus, so people can probably find even more reasons, on both sides of this argument, about why he should or should not be celebrated. But these are a few of the big reasons why I will not celebrate him by having an “off week” on this blog.

Instead, I hope to use the week of Columbus Day in future years to do as I’ve always tried to do here: discuss injustices which many of us may be blind to or blindly commit.

A Major Lesson from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria

In recent weeks, three catastrophic hurricanes have caused mass devastation. These hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—have provided numerous lessons for people to think about.

The lesson I want to focus on for this blog post is that the United States (or at least news media in the United States) only cares about a natural disaster if it hits one or more states.

The media’s treatment of Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria is a sad example of this. Last time I checked, losses from Maria in Puerto Rico totaled $72 billion—staggering when you consider the fact that storm costs are equal to nearly three quarters of the entire territory’s GDP of just over $100 billion! A humanitarian crisis is unfolding there, a crisis that may only be rivaled by few hurricanes in our entire nation’s history. Yet, since Puerto Rico is a territory instead of a state, Harvey and Irma received wall-to-wall coverage for days while Maria only got a mention of a few minutes at most until allegations of the federal government’s neglect began to dominate headlines.

If Puerto Rico got second class media coverage from Maria, then one could only imagine how much worse the media coverage was of Maria during and after hitting Dominica. The prime minister of Dominica had to be rescued and then said that the nation “lost all that money can buy.” There are reports saying that 98% of buildings in Dominica were damaged. Dominica is also in heavy need of humanitarian help. Unfortunately, American news media has reported very little on this, and I had to turn to news sources from Trinidad and Tobago (an island nation in the same region as Dominica) in order to get consistent and reliable information on Dominica.

In terms of media coverage, places like Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, and the Bahamas suffered the same relative lack of American media coverage during Hurricane Irma, even though all these places got pounded by a Category 5 hurricane. Instead, all of the focus was on the possibility of Irma hitting Florida, not on any impacts in other parts of the world.

However, there was one thing going for media coverage of Dominica with Maria, or several Caribbean nations with Irma: they were all in the path of a hurricane that was expected to hit a U.S. state or territory. Because of that fact alone, all of these nations got at least some level of media coverage.

The same could not be said about India with the catastrophic flooding that parts of the country recently received. The flooding rains in India were not heading to a U.S. state or territory. They were not heading to Florida, Texas, or even Puerto Rico. The flooding was on the other side of the globe, and as a result I heard practically zero media coverage about it. Or, at the very least, zero coverage until I listened to the BBC, which admittedly has a stake in what’s happening in India since India is part of the British Commonwealth.

Clearly, the United States, or at the very least American media, seems to care very little about natural disasters that don’t strike one of the fifty states.

But why is the lack of focus on disasters outside of the states unjust? It is unjust because, by largely ignoring people outside of the States, a message is being sent that not all lives matter. In fact, a message has been sent that the lives of people in the States matter most, that the lives of people in territories like Puerto Rico matter a little, and that the lives of people outside of U.S. states and territories don’t matter at all.

Some Words about the End of DACA

I was heartbroken when I found out about the White House’s recent decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). To see children and adults alike, none of whom committed crimes, be in a state of legal limbo because they tagged along with parents who crossed the border into the United States illegally or overstayed visas and remained illegally, is just sickening. It was so sickening that, for awhile, I didn’t know what to say or do other than lament.

In some ways, I still don’t know what to say. But there are a few things that I think are appropriate to share with a blog whose theme is injustices that we may be blind to, or blindly commit.

The first thing is this: unless we seriously think about how to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” we run the risk of blindly committing injustices. Look, for example, at the actions of the people who were behind this: President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and right-wing Republicans who support people like Trump and Sessions. They would not want others to put them in a position of legal limbo. They wouldn’t want to be in a position where they are deported from the country. They wouldn’t like to be put into danger by others because of what their parents did, good or bad. Yet, what I described is the position they’re putting the DACA kids into; as a result, they seemed not to think about “doing onto others as you would have them do unto you.” Unless we think about that exact phrase, we run the risk of being unjust to others.

The second thing is that we need to be conscious of how law (both civil and natural) is used to justify injustice. Whether it be ending DACA on the basis of “law,” allowing for Jim Crow Laws on the basis of how “law” allows for “separate but equal,” or arguing for female inferiority on the basis of “natural law,” there are examples of law being used to justify injustice throughout the history of the United States. I could probably dedicate a whole blog post to the topic of how law is used to justify injustice, but for now, I think the issue should be vigorously discussed in the context of DACA—especially since “law” was used by the Trump White House to justify the injustice of ending DACA (unless Congress passes something), and especially since “law” is practically given as much respect as the Bible among believing Christians.

The final thing is that we need to be aware of how these DACA kids are really not that different from the rest of us. There are some outstanding DACA people that supporters of DACA want to put a spotlight on, and some not-so-outstanding DACA people that opponents of DACA want to put a spotlight on, but the heartbreaking thing is that at the end of the day, they are in many ways not that different from the rest of us. The only difference is the circumstances with which we all ended up in this country—DACA people had parents who took them across the border and ended up not having documentation, while the rest of us in the United States were either born here or ended up here through other circumstances. Remembering that DACA people are not that different from us will hopefully bring some humanity to the current conversations.

Ultimately, we are all humans. We are not that different. And it’s extremely heartbreaking to see what’s happening to DACA people, precisely because they are not that different from the rest of us yet will have it much worse than the rest of us.

Author’s Note: Even though there were rumors of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, I feel that this post is relevant until DACA gets passed through the House and Senate, and gets signed by Trump.

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When I was at the protest over the end of DACA in Manhattan, I saw a little girl with a sign saying, “Don’t separate my family.” My heart broke when I saw the sign and the little girl with the sign.

Our Judgement of People on Based on Religion

I was in New York City on September 11, 2001. I was only a second grader at the time, but I was there, and I remember many details about that fateful day. I remember seeing the terrorist attacks on television. I remember my coming home from school really early and not really understanding why that was the case. And I remember the grief my parents felt that day.

However, today, September 12, marks the anniversary of the start of another tragedy, a tragedy that became evident by September 12, 2001, and continues today. The tragedy is that Muslims are marginalized, or even attacked, because people associate that religion with terrorism, and Sikhs are marginalized or attacked because various head coverings make others think that Sikhs look Muslim. It’s a tragedy that started when people first found out that the hijackers committed terrorism in the name of a very warped version of Islam.

Now I trust that none of us are the ones directly committing these tragedies against Muslims and Sikhs. But I worry that many of us, myself included at times, are enablers of hatred against Muslims and people who look like Muslims.

I hear this enabling all the time.

Every time someone talks about Islam being a barbarous religion, that person is enabling hatred of Islam. Every time someone talks about Islam is a religion of hate, that person is enabling hatred of Islam. Every time someone talks about all Muslims as if they’re all on a quest to destroy the United States, that person is enabling hatred of Islam.

I could continue the list, but by now I think my readers get the point. The point is that, while none of us may be directly behind the anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh violence, anti-Muslim rhetoric, or even silence in the face of others’ anti-Muslim rhetoric, can create motivation for people to commit violence against Muslims and people who are mistaken as being Muslim (often Sikhs).

So at this point, maybe some of you are expecting me to tell everyone to be careful with the words all of us say. Now yes, I agree that we should generally be careful with the words we say, because the last thing that any of us wants to do is to somehow give fuel to violence.

But I am calling for something more. Namely, I am calling for everybody to stop judging people based on what religion they are, and instead look at how individuals live out the religion (or lack of religion) they have. If someone is a Muslim who advocates for basic human rights around the world, then that’s great! If someone is a Christian who is big into war, that’s not so great, even if I share the same religion as the other Christian.

Martin Luther King, Jr. tells us “not to judge by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” In the context of judging people based on religion, I suggest a quote similar to Dr. King’s: we should not judge people by the name of their religion, but by the content of their character.