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Finally, a Perfect Term for When White People “Discover” Things (includes a hilarious yet sad video from CollegeHumor)

At some point in their adolescence, most people will come to learn that the oft-taught grade school tidbit that Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas is, at best, a significant stretching of the truth. They’ll also soon realize that Columbus’ claim to fame is only one example in a long historical pattern of white people taking credit for uncovering “new” things that actually existed long before they were aware of them.

And so it’s only logical that someone would put two and two together and finally coin the perfect term for this infuriating habit: “Columbusing.”

I will openly admit that I have Columbused many times before, including right here on DK. I am not proud of that. But it's important for those of us who enjoy various institutionalized privileges to realize that when we finally, finally became aware of such privileges, then with that awareness must come the understanding that to those who had been trying, pleading with us to understand, we must admit that they were right all along.

Let's call it out. What Columbusing have you seen, heard, or participated in? How can those of us with privilege avoid Columbusing as the scales of blindness fall off our eyes, once we become aware of he truth?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Have To Say I Was Expecting "Whitescover" (10+ / 0-)

    but I'll go with "Columbusing."

    Looking at the climate change crisis I'd say we have yet to Columbus the value of governing for the benefit of the 7th generation.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 04:07:41 PM PDT

    •  The problem is not borrowing the ideas per se. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gooserock, Silencio, OooSillyMe

      The problem is pretending that we discovered them for the first time and them claiming them as our own. If that sounds like a synonym for plagiarism, that's because it is. Hell, come to think about it, "plagiarism" could well have worked in place of "Columbusing." Although plagiarism, as one commenter noted, doesn't always connote a hostile takeover (although it leaves room for the possibility).

      Lewis's Law: "The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism."

      by Risen Tree on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 07:05:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Whitescover" I like that (0+ / 0-)

      Good one, Goose

      Happy just to be alive

      by exlrrp on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 06:08:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It happens a lot in the foodie world (7+ / 0-)

    Asian food I've been eating for years suddenly gets Columbized only because someone nicely packages it for a white audience. They've been serving the same thing in a restaurant across town for years, but it gets no attention.

    Or Sriracha sauce. I've been eating it since the 80s and in the last 5 years it suddenly becomes all the rage amongst the foodies as if they discovered it. Which is fine. But that basically forces the ultra-ultra-hip foodies to attack the sauce and the fad, even though their ilk was responsible for the fad in the first place. And even though, like I said, it's not new! Sigh...

  •  Well, RT (9+ / 0-)

    You Columbused Columbusing.



    "It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so." (Artemus Ward)

    by Silencio on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 04:47:26 PM PDT

  •  this is great! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Silencio, Wee Mama

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

    by terrypinder on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 04:47:55 PM PDT

  •  I always thought the term was 'science' (5+ / 0-)

    Most of what science "discovers" also has existed for a long time. But as the Mythbusters say, " the difference between science and screwing around is writing it down."

    Were the Americas known by those who already lived there?  Sure. But they didn't travel and trade overseas, didn't make maps, didn't make their presence known to the world, and didn't share their written knowledge.

    Science is the process of collecting knowledge, including that already known, into a collected body of work, so that those "discoveries" can be shared with the world.

    For better or worse, that is what Collumbus and the other explorers did.

    •  Serious remark (for a change) (4+ / 0-)

      There is a deep philosophical question (honestly) about whether new structures in mathematics are found or created, since mathematics arises from its own internal dynamic, not from investigation of the real world--although the real world can provide hints in many cases.

      Personally, I'm on the Platonic, "found/discovered" side. I would guess that many--maybe most--mathematicians are as well, but the same apparently isn't true for philosophers of mathematics.

    •  If Columbus had drawn a map, (5+ / 0-)

      added a label saying that the land was already owned, and gone on his way, that would be science. Claiming it for Spain, kidnapping a couple of dozen people, and heading home to announce that the natives were timid and easy to overcome, is not science. Scientist don't tend to behave that way.

      "The Democrats are the lesser evil and that has to count for something. Good and evil aren't binary states. All of us are both good and evil. Being less evil is the trajectory of morality." --SC

      by tb92 on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 05:42:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed on the exploitation (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Exploration isn't always innocent and pure.  Exploration for the intent of exploitation is still an act of discovery.
        I'm not defending anything Columbus did.  But he certainly "discovered" the Americas from Europe's point of view.

        •  "[F]rom Europe's point of view" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Exactly. The way most of us learned history, it was as if absolutely nobody knew about the Americas before Columbus arrived. Which is absolutely false. Europeans were simply late to the party.

          Lewis's Law: "The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism."

          by Risen Tree on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 07:41:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I should have read your post here ^^ (0+ / 0-)

            before my post in rebuttal to "Did I say they did not exist" a little further down . . . my apologies, Norm in Chicago.

          •  This certainly isn’t true of the way (0+ / 0-)

            I learned history in grade school in the 1950s.  It was made perfectly clear that the Americas were inhabited and hence that there were many people who knew about them long before Columbus arrived.  It just wasn’t sufficiently emphasized that when it was said that Columbus discovered them, what was meant was that he was the one who made them known to Europe and hence to the cultures in which ours has its deepest historical roots.

            It’s been decades since I last saw a schoolbook for that level, so I don’t know how they handle the matter nowadays; I’d expect the point to be made much more explicitly than it was in my day.  I’d also expect some mention of , Bjarni Herjólfsson and Leifr Eiríksson, and the possibility of earlier visits by Europen fishermen.

        •  Did he? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          IIRC, Columbus never actually made it to the continent. He got as far as the West Indies and called it a day.  And there's a vocal contingent that insists that Leif Erickson beat Chris to the "New" World by a long shot.

          But both events were a bit before my time, so I can't confirm or deny.

          I'll believe corporations are people when one comes home from Afghanistan in a body bag.

          by mojo11 on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 06:01:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Columbus was a real sweetheart compared to Cortez (0+ / 0-)

          Who slaughtered a lot more. For Scorched Earth Policy, it should be Cortezing

          Happy just to be alive

          by exlrrp on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 06:13:00 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Um,, going to bust your bubble, because there are (0+ / 0-)

        plenty of scientists who did act that way. They regularly mistreated women, the poor, orphans and the non-White.

        See Syphillis experiments on African Americans.

        See Radiation Experiments on Americans with Downs Syndrome  

        See Hallucinogen experiments on Prisoners, Mental Patients and the occasional Service Member.

        See Hysterectomies and oophorectomies on women in the 1800 and 1900s, often without their consent, to make them more pliable and less sexual or combative.

        Social Hygiene Programs in the US, that included forced sterilization of American Citizens--mostly minority women deemed unfit for motherhood for a variety of reasons, most of them based in bigotry.  

        The case made against a company that used Radium in watch faces and dials, not protecting it's mostly female, poor workers from radium poisoning.

        Seeing a wrong and saying nothing is the same as perpetrating that wrong.

        Scientists are not Saints by and large, they are regular people who can be flawed just like anyone else which includes flaws like greed and bigotry.

        "It were a thousand times better for the land if all Witches, but especially the blessing Witch, might suffer death." qtd by Ehrenreich & English. For Her Own Good, Two Centuries of Expert's Advice to Women pp 40

        by GreenMother on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 12:43:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I call B.S. to this (6+ / 0-)

      We did a healthy trade with the various 'nesia nations, we took in shipwrecked peoples from all over, and when you believe in an oral history, you only write things down to lie about them later (a majority of indigenous peoples across the globe have this oral tradition).

      Have you ever read "The Whale and the Supercomputer?"  I highly recommend it.

      The First Nations' types across the Americas had agriculture.  And harvesting practices.  And hunting traditions. And history.  And fine art.  And food preservation.  And science.  Just because they do not conform to your Euro-centric view does not mean that they do not exist.

      •  That's just it. (4+ / 0-)

        So many cultures have discovered or known things well before Europeans did. Case in point, Nilakantha Somayaji discovered heliocentrism well before Copernicus did.

        Lewis's Law: "The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism."

        by Risen Tree on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 07:01:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Did I say they did not exist? (0+ / 0-)

        No I did not.  I take your point.  But the act of discovery is in who does the discovering, and who tells the world about it.

        History could have evolved multiple different ways.  The Chinese were THIS close to discovering Europe during the dark ages, and would have dominated technologically just as Europe did over the Americas.  China would have discovered Europe.

        Native Americans could have built ships and sailed to Europe.  Maybe with the Vikings, maybe without.  And if they had, and their culture had dominated till this day, today we would be saying that the Americas First Nations discovered Europe.

        Oral tradition matched writing fine until the invention of the printing press.  Now Oral tradition could make a comeback using video.  But one doesn't get to computers and video without writing down the things one needs to remember and pass on to millions of others.

        •  Oral tradition. Storytelling. (0+ / 0-)

          "It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so." (Artemus Ward)

          by Silencio on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 07:46:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  The problem with this (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Norm in Chicago

          is that you are presenting your argument in a very Euro-centric manner.  And, if China had invaded Western Europe (do believe that there were Asian and Mongolian types that made it into Eastern Europe.  Also, the Arabs did invade Western Europe . . . well, Spain . . . and made a play over in the Baltic area), would they have said that they "discovered" or "conquered?"

          The languages throughout Europe (with the exception of Finland and Hungary) were inundated by the Indo-Europeans, beginning the change of the regional languages in to what they have become today.  So, did they Columbus Europe?

          First Nations' types also spanned the circumpolar regions, including Russia, Finland, Greenland, Iceland.  There are significant similarities between the pyramids found in Egypt and those found in Central and South Americas, who, incidentally, had a written system of recording things and also had scientists. But, who built the pyramids first?  Who experimented with the concept of zero first?  Who told the world first?  What do you mean by world?  The known world?  The known world of Mayans?  The known world of the Arabs? The known world of the Europeans?  Of the Asians? Of the Indians (East Indians, not First Nations')?

          Your premise is heavily Euro-centric.  Your use of the term "discovered" goes to prove the original point of Columbusing.  Your dismissal of all the contributions the First Nations' types have given the world is, well, typical of the Euro-American institutionalization of colonialism and imperialism found throughout our educational system.

          •  There were no First Nations types in Iceland. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Unless I'm misunderstanding what you mean by First Nations.

             And FYI, the pyramids between Egypt and the Americas are very different. The pyramids of Egypt were build with huge blocks. Pyramids in the Americas were build out of rubble and only faced with stone. Pyramids in Egypt were focused on achieving height; pyramids in the americas, on volume. Egyptian pyramids were exclusively tombs; American pyramids served a variety of everyday purposes, and were often temples. Etc.

            About the only thing they have in common is that they're roughly pyramid shaped, which is just a simple architectural requirement for massive structures built out of primative building materials. You're pretty much limited to either pyramids, cones, and shapes in-between. Why do most pyramids have rectangular bases? The same reason most skyscrapers do. People tend to prefer block-shaped bases on buildings because that's what we're used to, we make cities on block-shaped plots of land, and that in turn is because they fit together. In the Americas, the pyramids were built in cities, so they had to fit into the city grid. And the Egyptians were building with big rectangular stones, so a rectangular base is obviously going to be the natural shape.

            Beyond this, there's ample evidence on both sides that both had a learning curve, starting from simpler, smaller structures. In the Egyptians case, the Step Pyramid is the illustrative case. It began with just one layer with very steep walls, which was the first innovation from sheer walls, which allowed them to build higher. It was enlarged several times, but when they tried to build up, they soon discovered that their slope was insufficient to prevent collapse, so they had to draw back with a shallow slope, then they could build additional layers - a pattern that they repeated for aesthetics. For subsequent pyramids, realizing that they had to have more gentle walls to prevent collapse, they just made them continuously gentle to begin with.

            Zero, likewise, was independently invented by many civilizations, which can be seen by their quite varied usage of it. The Egyptians, in measurement diagrams, used the symbol for beautiful to mean zero distance. The Babylonians used a space in numbers to represent a zero in their base-60 numbering system, later adopting a distinct symbol for it - but it never stood alone. The concept of binary numbers (one of them being a zero) was invented (though not widely used) in ancient India; while it employed a true zero, it was only used as a code. The Greeks later stole the Babylonian concept for their numbering system, and China and Mesoamerica developed it independently in a couple different forms. The Romans, building on the Greeks, later used a true zero, but as a word, not a number. It wasn't until the 9th century that a true zero in an ordinary numbering system treated as any other number came into play, in India; it quickly spread to the Arab world, and then to Europe.

            The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

            by Rei on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 01:55:03 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  There is no evidence of anything (0+ / 0-)

        more than sporadic, accidental contact between the Americas and Polynesia.

    •  Exploitation of resources (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Norm in Chicago, AKBear

      and viewing people and their lands as a commodity isn't science. "Discovering" doesn't include opening up territories occupied by native peoples for monarchs to use for self enrichment.

      For fucks sake.

      "Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality." - Michael Bakunin (Economic Left/Right: -10.00 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -9.79)

      by ZhenRen on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 06:39:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I sorta have to disagree (0+ / 0-)

        There is tremendous science and knowledge behind hydraulic fracking.  That knowledge could be used for good perhaps.  Instead it's being used to exploit.  But there certainly were a ton of scientific discoveries.

        Science is in how one uses it.  C02 free nuclear power, or world domination via nuclear bombs.  The act of discovery and the exploitation of that discovery are separate things.

        •  Columbus was funded by a monarchy (0+ / 0-)

          to find new resources to exploit, not for humankind to benefit, but for the monarchy to enrich itself. Science means knowledge, and knowledge can by used for good or ill. But this was 90% exploitation and 10% development of science. When "science" is inextricably bound to create human suffering, there is no defending its development in such cases. There really isn't some great moral benefit to developing certain areas of knowledge when the real outcome is a detriment to humanity. I suppose it could be said that there is a science to be learned in how to exploit, but that doesn't make pursuing that "science" ethical.

          "Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality." - Michael Bakunin (Economic Left/Right: -10.00 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -9.79)

          by ZhenRen on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 07:50:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I like it, but... (4+ / 0-)

    it's almost too nice. A carjacker says, "Hey, look, I've discovered a car!” The occupant is removed at gunpoint and maybe brutalized for good measure. The car has been Columbized.

    One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain -Bob Marley

    by Darwinian Detritus on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 04:58:39 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for this diary! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ItsaMathJoke, Risen Tree, Silencio

    It made me laugh.  Some of the responses made me realize just how deeply some people in this country have been successfully colonized in philosophy, in culture, and in general attitudes about themselves.  They bought the con!

  •  The difference (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trivium, Gooserock

    The Vikings also discovered North America.  They decided it was boring and moved on. Of course, that's also a matter of time frames: people "discovered" the Western Hemisphere by wandering over the land bridge near Sarah Palin's porch and by taking boat trips between Africa and South America.

    Columbus, on the other hand, was the first person to "discover" the place for the explicit purpose of exploiting the shit out of it.

    •  Natives Were Not Supportive (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Risen Tree

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 07:13:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  different levels of tech? (0+ / 0-)

      Comment above re: Mongol and Arab successful takeovers of European real-estate, Conquest not "discovery" as relative capabilities of participants were on the same scale.  Armies were required.  Noticed by both parties to event.

      Land bridge migration found no appreciable current occupant.  Either not present, or not capable of leaving a mark on the "invader".   Discovery.

      16th Century Spaniards in the Americas, I seem to recall that original inhabitants did battle using thousands against perhaps scores of conquistadors.  Left no mark at that time on Invader.  Reinforced for the Europeans that there wasn't really anyone of of import before Columbus's arrival a generation earlier.  Discovery still.

      Sadly, it took hundreds of years for us Europeans to "discover" that there was something of significant value for us to learn here that existed before we conquered the extant populations.  By that time, much was no longer available to learn from.  I'm sure Jared Diamond has some material on that.  


      •  I'm reminded of (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Eddie Izzard's riff on the British Empire...

        "Do you have a flag?"

        I'll believe corporations are people when one comes home from Afghanistan in a body bag.

        by mojo11 on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 06:06:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The conqusitadors... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ...had a lot of help from diseases.  And (per Jared Diamond) horses and steel weapons.  (Also guns, but these were more psychological as they didn't work very well.)  I also don't think the central Americans had longbows -- it was a 16th century army against an army from 4000 BC.  Oh, yes.  The Spaniards had a highly developed sense of racial hatred and no compunctions about mass killings.

        By the time Europeans and the North American Indians were at it, the natives had firearms, horses, steel, and even a modest amount of immunity from European diseases.  In other words, they tended to shoot back and not give into genocide without a fight.  In the 19th century, it was industrialization that made the difference: if the Plains Indians had been able to give the Europeans something, they would have had a superior military and the ability to operate out of Canada.

        In the 19th century, it wasn't smallpox, syphilis, or smallpox.  It was industrial scale European warfare.  Had this been either the 18th or the 21st century, the native Americans would likely have won.  But they made their last stand in the 19th century, the one time when they were at the greatest disadvantage.

        •  but what is it that makes for great myths? (0+ / 0-)

          What you say is not something that I can argue against.

          The impact that one culture/civilization has on another can be recorded in may ways.  We of Western origins often find our perceptions limited to that which registered on the infamous "Clash of Battle" meter.  For better or worse.

          Other than a few priests (not part of the "In the know") whose written diaries exist 400 years later, at least in part, I am reasonably sure that there was not one solitary soul in Spanish Christendom (was there any other?) who noted the impact of diseases upon the targeted populations of the New World.   Well, maybe to ensure that priests were available to baptize "en-masse" entire villages and towns to ensure that the "infidels saved" count met the current requirements of the Church and Crown.  This saving of course done just before these peoples became spoiled meat.  So it went, and was duly noted for both royal and ecclesiastical superiors.  ...

          As rightly observed above by a more concise commenter than me, those who contributed the most to the body count (10000 times the "battlefield" count is conservative) were those who not only didn't have a flag, but wouldn't have known a flag from a windblown scrap of loincloth if they had seen one.  The were not recognized by the Western combatants (who KNEW precisely what the job was)  as legitimate opposition.  They were merely targets, and/or collateral damage.  Barely of note.

          It has taken a long time for even a modicum of recognition be accorded those who were disappeared.   I would hope that there are lessons we all can learn beyond the obvious of "don't lose a war of extermination."  Oblivion isn't very helpful to humanity.


    •  Disease did much of the heavy lifting (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      European diseases spread ahead of the Conquistadores.

      They frequently encountered natives whose populations had been decimated and were too traumatized to mount a coordinated defense.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 06:18:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Reminds me of the joke (8+ / 0-)

    "How do you want to celebrate Columbus day?"

    "I dunno. I thought we could drive around until we saw a house we liked, then let ourselves in and tell the occupants 'we live here now'".

  •  I have seen historical markers... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AKBear, OrganicChemist, Major Kong

    ...that say "first encountered by white man" as opposed to discovered, which is probably fairer.  Columbus is still historically noteworthy for inaugurating the age of exploring this hemisphere by Europeans.  He was no saint and there were a lot of shameful parts of this process, but most of us also have to acknowledge we probably wouldn't be here were it not for the Europeans coming.

    I once read some wag's line that "Columbus was not the first to find America - just the first to call a press conference!"

  •  There is a growing body of evidence... (0+ / 0-)

    that many of the first residents of the Americans were Europeans that arrived 20,000 years ago and spread as far west as New Mexico. They were driven out or assimilated by the later arrivals who crossed the land bridge from Asia. The battle of who discovered what and who stole from who will go on forever I think.

    •  Some evidence but I don't know that it is growing. (0+ / 0-)

      You need to post a reference to support claims like that.

      Wikipedia has an article discussing the rival theories for the settlement of the Americas and this has an extensive list of references.

      The wikipedia article on the Solutrean hypothesis discusses the 'Europeans came first' theory in greater detail and the evidence for and against this.

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