First I have to express my dismay at not coming up with the term – columbusing. It fully expresses something that I often think and speak about, the historical and modern day colonizing projects of white people. But now that we have the term, it is time to proliferate it.
Christopher Columbus is an infamous figure within the Western cannon. In some ways he remains a hero, with a holiday, statues and countless locations named for him. In other ways, he is the linchpin of dialogues around European destruction of indigenous peoples and lands. The left loves to villianize Columbus, but that narrative has holes just as much as the narrative that he discovered anything. Columbus was not sent by the monarchs of his lands to wage war and commit mass murder. These kinds of missions did exist at this point in history, but if that had been Columbus’ purpose he would have had more ships, armed with greater weaponry, and crewed with soldiers rather than men of other persuasions.
It is well known that Columbus was not the first to reach the landmasses later to be named the Americas. The Vikings are believed to have traveled across the Atlantic and landed in the northern region. Also Columbus was no great navigator, he really did think that he has solved the longstanding quest to find a sea rout to Asia. Then we must reference why European powers were so desperate to maintain strong trade with Asia – which again was not to capture slaves, wage war nor destroy a culture. Europeans had become very reliant on trade from Asia due to the centuries success of the Silk Road. This trade provided Europe with spices, tea, silk and more luxuries. Spices were the most important. We must not envision the ground powders that we have stored in bottles in the back of our cabinets. Spices were medicinal, critical nutrition, and flavors like none that existed in Europe.
So why is it the Vikings returned without the need to colonize the lands, while Columbus took four journeys to this land? I propose that one factor is the pleasure principle. The Vikings landed in a location as cold and harsh as their native lands. They may have encountered some people and some new crops, but nothing that could justify the treacherous naval travel across the rough Atlantic waters.
Columbus arrived in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. He fled a wartorn Europe to arrive in crystal blue waters with unimaginably lush flora. He landed to taste coconut for the first time and more variety of fruit that could even be imagined in Europe. He got to chew on fresh sugar cane and feel the jolt of cocoa. Among these homes there were no sewage filled streets or remnants of deadly diseases. The women here did not powder their faces, constrict themselves in corsets, or subscribe to a patriarchal church code that equated sex with sin. Yes he exploited the people and sought to rule over them. But it is in his motives that modern day columbusing finds its legacy.
Young white people have not built a mass movement and capital enterprise to gentrify the suburbs. The restaurants and flavors they dedicate blogs to are not about the best instant coffee, the deeply hidden sub shop or the best ways to reduce strong scents from food. The music native to these peoples, what is often dubbed indie/emo/alternative, is never blasted from car or home speakers. The sounds and lyrics are depressive and self-involved. No one is urged to advertise to their neighbors that they are sitting in the corner full of self-pity. So young white people go out on their own journey’s of discovery. They find neighborhoods rich of sounds and smells foreign to them. They find corner dance parties and women who are not trying to starve themselves into mannequin form. They collect small artifacts, foods and cloth and bring it back to their more just like them. Same as Columbus stood in front of the king and queen, displaying his captives, their gold, and recounting stories of this far off land. Today’s white colonists declare, “Oh I have to take you there.” And soon enough they rent apartments, and buy some spots, plant their flags and colonize all the same.
This all thus far may sound familiar enough: gentrification, cultural appropriation and exotification of the other are well studied paradigms. Yet in the same ways that Columbus is seen as a murderous tyrant but was in no ways a military conqueror, young white people don’t identify their motives as destroying a native culture. They do not see themselves reflected in the allegations of destruction, greed, and ignorance that often permeate the dialogue around gentrification. They just want to live near the great park, eat the delicious food, and buy from the exotic stores too. Their motivation is at its core the same pleasure principle that brought Columbus back to the Caribbean again and again.
What these modern day conquistadores fail to recognize is that the results of their actions will be the same as their predecessors: the destruction of exactly that which they came seeking. The music will die down, the restaurants will all have the same decor, and soon surrounding themselves will be mere clones – more people who cannot create and generate pleasure but can only seek to consume it.