First celebrated nationally in 1937, Columbus Day pays homage to Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas. It is, needless to say, viewed very differently by different groups of Americans. Some people forget it's a holiday at all. Some Italian Americans see it as a point of cultural pride. Other people — especially Native Americans — point out that Columbus personally oversaw the murder and enslavement of thousands and see the holiday as an intrinsically cruel celebration of the beginning of a massive genocide and generations of oppression.
For some reason, we've been unable to deal with problem of Columbus Day, but now some folks on the Internet have a solution that actually makes a hell of a lot of sense: Replace Columbus Day with Exploration Day.
The logic is quite neat. Columbus Day is about one guy and the (actually untrue) claim that he was the first person to discover America. Inherently, that's pretty Euro-centric, which is a big part of why it sits awkwardly in a pluralistic country. But exploration is inclusive. The ancestors of Native Hawaiians were explorers who crossed the ocean. The ancestors of Native Americans explored their way across the Bering land bridge and then explored two whole continents. If you look at the history of America, you can see a history of exploration done by many different people, from many different backgrounds. Sometimes we're talking about literal, physical exploration. Other times, the exploring is done in a lab. Or in space. But the point is clear: This country was built on explorers. And it needs explorers for the future.
Exploration Day would allow us to honor the importance of exploration — and the pride we take in being explorers — without marginalizing some Americans and without perpetuating damaging myths about our own history. Bonus: Exploration Day could double as a holiday for science. Looks like a win to me.
Sign the WhiteHouse.gov petition asking to rededicated Columbus Day as Exploration Day.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.