Rethink Columbus Day, Part Three: Learn to Lament


If every culture has its strengths and its deficits, then certainly one of the deficits of white American culture is our discomfort with “negative” emotions like grief and anger. We white people love to put a positive spin on everything, look on the bright side, move forward, keep our chin up, and keep it together.

Not only are we afraid of our own negative emotions, but we also find it difficult to be present with others who are expressing their negative emotions. When others are struggling, we want to quickly fix them or solve their problem. We feel anxious when grief or anger is present, so we try to minimize or explain away other people’s problems, or just avoid people in pain altogether.

This can impact our ability to engage with people or communities of color when they express anger or grief about the racial injustice they have experienced. I often hear white people say, Why can’t they just get over it? That was in the past. Why are they always so angry? So emotional?

But if we want to learn how to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color, we must learn how to lament. We need to practice listening to others express their pain, and staying with them in that pain. We need to hear their frustrations and not try to fix them. Maybe we don’t understand why someone of another race sees and feels things the way they do. That’s okay. But instead of trying to argue or explain things away, we need to ask the next question. And then sit and listen some more.

The Christian scriptures teach that to love is to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. Our Native American brothers and sisters have much to weep over, and a national holiday created to honor a man who inflicted so much suffering on their peoples (and paved the way for many others to do so as well) is part of their sorrow.

This Columbus Day weekend, let’s love and honor the native peoples of our country by joining them in their lament. Below are three beautiful expressions of Native American pain and sorrow, related to Columbus and what he represents. Take some time to watch and listen and learn…and empathize and feel and mourn.

A collection of Native Americans and allies make an appeal for us to think about whether we really want to honor Columbus.

(Click here if the video doesn’t show up in your browser.)

Mark Charles, Navajo, gives us a compelling metaphor for what it feels like to be Native American, and the host of so many other cultures.

(Click here if the video doesn’t show up in your browser.)

Native Americans share their one-word responses to “Christopher Columbus.”

(Click here if the video doesn’t show up in your browser.)

Make sure you check out Part One and Part Two of our #RethinkColumbusDay series.

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